It’s no secret that Jeb Bush is considering a presidential run in 2016 – despite a less than passionate embrace from the right wing of his party.
Now he is trying to build bridges, raising cash for Republicans in tight Senate races.
The former Florida governor, the brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush, is set to headline a high-dollar fundraiser this month for five Senate candidates. Sponsored by Floridians for a Senate Majority, the Sept. 23 fundraiser in Tampa will benefit Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Joni Ernst in Iowa, Cory Gardner in Colorado, Monica Wehby in Oregon and Dan Sullivan in Alaska.
The GOP needs to gain six seats to take control of the Senate. It's widely expected to retain its House majority.
For Bush, 61, who has largely remained out of the public spotlight since leaving the governor’s office in 2007, the midterm election has evolved into a coming-out of sorts. He has headlined about two dozen fundraisers for Republican candidates and committees this election cycle, said his spokeswoman, Kristy Campbell.
"He's fully committed to getting Republicans elected," she said Thursday.
At a town-hall-style discussion in College Station, Texas, this year, Bush had no qualms about discussing factors that would enter into his decision on whether to run for president, including family concerns and whether he could avoid “the vortex of a mud fight.”
“We need to elect candidates that have a vision that is bigger and broader, and candidates that are organized around winning the election, not making a point,” Bush said at the time, referring to the Republican Party.
Susan MacManus, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida, said Bush was "laying the groundwork for something."
"Whether or not it's a presidential run in 2016 or a future presidential run for his son, it's definitely something, because he's raising money for Republicans in a way he has not necessarily done in the past," said MacManus, noting that Bush's son, George P. Bush, 38, is running for Texas land commissioner this year, seen as a launching pad to bigger things. "It's been all the buzz in Florida politics ... whether or not he'll make a go at it."
Although establishment Republicans consider Jeb Bush a top-tier candidate, he has drawn right-wing ire for supporting comprehensive immigration reform and Common Core, the national education standards for K-12 students that are being implemented in dozens of states.
In June, after Florida state lawmakers passed a bill granting in-state tuition to undocumented students, Bush used the occasion to criticize Congress -- including Republicans -- for inaction on comprehensive immigration reform. A bipartisan immigration bill did pass the Senate but has been buried in the House.
And earlier this year, Bush, who is fluent in Spanish, said many immigrants who come to the United States illegally do so as an "act of love" for their families. That phrase in particular infuriated some conservatives.
As for Common Core, Bush has embraced the standards despite the opposition of many Republican governors, who argue it could lead to a federal takeover of schools. Bush's position led Adam Smith, political editor of the Tampa Bay Times, to list him as a loser of the week in Florida politics recently after a local school board voted to opt out of the program.
"Bush's strength as a presidential candidate looks much more dubious today than a few months ago, amid widespread backlash against education accountability policies closely associated with him," wrote Smith.
Campbell said Thursday that the former governor would continue to be a vocal proponent of "policies he believes will help create more opportunity for Americans."
"That's his focus, along with getting Republicans elected this cycle," Campbell said. "After the election, he's widely expressed he'll weigh a decision on 2016."