By Alexander Bolton - 05/20/12 08:08 PM EDT
Jeb Bush’s name keeps floating up in discussions about candidates to run on the ticket with Mitt Romney, despite Bush’s efforts to douse the talk.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says Bush would most help Romney.
Graham urged his party to unify behind Romney last month after Rick Santorum exited the GOP presidential primary. Graham is a close friend of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.
Most of the focus has been on Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who are thought to be the leading contenders on Romney’s short list. But chatter is picking up on Capitol Hill that Bush could be a dark horse.
Senior political strategists think Bush could deliver Florida for Romney and help him among Hispanic and Catholic voters.
Bush fanned speculation last month when he told Newsmax, a conservative news site, “I’d consider it, but I doubt I’ll get a call and I don’t know if it’s the right thing for me to do.”
Bush has since tried to bury the notion that he might join the ticket.
“While the support is flattering, his decision has not changed. Gov. Bush will not be a candidate for VP,” said Jaryn Emhof, his spokeswoman.
A senior Democratic strategist said Bush would give a significant boost to Romney’s campaign and predicted he would be the only possible vice presidential nominee who could deliver a major battleground state for the GOP.
But sources close to Bush cannot envision him taking second billing to Romney, or any other candidate.
Gaetz said “having him on the ticket would be the best chance to carry Florida” but thinks Bush is more likely to take a page out of Ronald Reagan’s playbook and tour the country.
“He might follow the path of Ronald Reagan and travel the country, make more contacts than he already has — and he has many — and articulate his message of economic and educational reform,” said Gaetz.
Gaetz noted that Bush is often asked to endorse candidates and as he has done so his collection of political IOUs has grown, which would be helpful to a future presidential run.
State Sen. John Thrasher, co-chairman of Romney’s campaign in Florida and another Bush ally, said he does not think Bush would accept an invitation to serve as running mate.
“I know him pretty well and I take him at his word. He says he’s not going to do it. I think he’s serious about not doing it,” said Thrasher, who spent time on the campaign trail with Romney Thursday.
“I think Jeb’s made it pretty clear. He’s probably had a conversation with Romney about it,” Thrasher added.
Bush could help Romney with two key constituencies, Catholics and Hispanics.
Bush converted to Catholicism, speaks Spanish and his wife was born in Mexico. He has urged the Republican Party to do more to engage with Hispanic voters.
Some Republican lawmakers question whether the Bush name would hurt Romney in the fall election.
“If only his last name wasn’t Bush, he’d be the nominee,” said a lawmaker backing Romney, who requested anonymity to discuss the vice presidential selection process.
But Bush’s approval ratings are high in Florida, the biggest tossup of the battleground states with 29 electoral votes.
A recent poll conducted by Suffolk University and WSVN Channel 7 found Bush had a 56-percent favorable and 34-percent unfavorable rating in the Sunshine State.
Bush has suggested Romney pick Rubio.
“I’m an active supporter of Gov. Romney. I humbly suggest he seriously consider Marco Rubio,” Romney said at a commencement address earlier this month at Ave Maria University.