Adding to an increasingly probable bid for the White House in 2016, Jeb Bush has been busy courting GOP members from his home state of Florida.
The former governor has now snagged firm support from least five members of Florida’s GOP congressional delegation, with several others leaning his way.
This aggressive move is in clear contrast to fellow Floridian and 2016 Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, who boasts a single congressional backer from the Sunshine State.
In a recent survey of the 17-member Florida GOP delegation conducted by The Hill, Bush can reliably count on U.S. Reps. Ander Crenshaw, Mario Díaz-Balart, David Jolly, Dennis Ross and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
“I’m with him, I’m all in with him,” Díaz-Balart told Jonathan Easley of The Hill. “I don’t think there’s anybody more prepared to be president than Jeb Bush.”
Both Díaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen share Bush’s support comprehensive immigration reform. Other GOP operatives believe Bush’s stance on immigration could be an obstacle in the 2016 primaries.
For Jolly, Jeb’s experience is “markedly different” from that of everyone else in the field, even Rubio.
“I’m somebody who appreciates the diversity and length of Bush’s experience,” he said.
Bush personally contacted each of the five Florida, asking for support. Ross added that Bush asked for his help with the others in the Florida GOP delegation.
U.S. Rep. John Mica, although not yet ready to commit to a candidate, says Bush is currently at the top of his list. Mica says he would like to learn a bit more about former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker before he comes out with an endorsement.
The Hill spoke to 15 Florida GOP members, with U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney the only one openly backing Rubio.
“I think that [Marco’s] leadership is the kind of transformational leadership that our party really needs right now,” Rooney replied, acknowledging that Rubio overcoming Bush would be a significant challenge.
“I think people shouldn’t forget that when Marco started running against (former Gov.) Charlie Crist, he was a huge underdog then as well,” Rooney told The Hill. “He’s got his work cut out for him and it’s going to be up to him to see whether or not he can climb that mountain.
“But I believe that he can.”
Mounting support for Bush falls into the narrative that Rubio, if he chooses to run, would struggle to compete for donors and quality staff both nationally and in Florida.
Bush still has some ground to cover, as most Florida House Republicans remain uncommitted, but he does hold an advantage with those on the fence.
Rep. Daniel Webster – who was Florida House Speaker during Bush’s time as governor — told The Hill he speaks with Bush frequently and has not yet spoken with Rubio about his presidential ambitions.
Newly elected Rep. Carlos Curbelo also won’t back anyone until an official announcement by the candidates, but the freshman congressman pointed out that Bush supported him with an endorsement and fundraising help during his four-way GOP primary race last year. Rubio waited until after the primary for an endorsement.
Curbelo may not have spoken directly with Bush recently, but he has been in touch with Bush staffers and supporters.
“I’m supporting Jeb because I think that in the end, maybe Marco will not be running,” Ros-Lehtinen told The Hill. “But we’ll see. I’m with Jeb and I’m supporting him, but I love Marco too. Divided loyalties. I love them both.”
“It’s an embarrassment of riches,” she continued. “It’s very difficult. I just have a hunch that Jeb is going to stick with it and be there at the finish line, but Marco has a lot of possibilities in front of him.”
A tally of those in the House GOP delegation who the Hill says has not yet officially committed to either Bush or Rubio: Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Curt Clawson, Carlos Curbelo, Jeff Miller, Richard Nugent, Bill Posey, Daniel Webster and Ted Yoho.