Bush beating Rubio in Florida battle

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Jeb Bush is courting Republican lawmakers from Florida and securing their endorsements for his likely bid for the White House.

The former Florida governor has rounded up the firm backing of five members of the Florida GOP congressional delegation, and others are leaning in his direction. Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioThe ignored question: What does the future Republican Party look like? Graham to roll out extension of Obama immigration program Trump and Cuba: A murky future MORE (R-Fla.), who is also mulling a 2016 presidential run, only has one clear backer from the Sunshine State.

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The Hill surveyed the 17-member GOP delegation, and found that Reps. Ander Crenshaw, David Jolly, Dennis Ross, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Díaz-Balart are already in the Bush camp.

“I’m with him, I’m all in with him,” Díaz-Balart told The Hill. “I don’t think there’s anybody more prepared to be president than Jeb Bush.”

Like Bush, Díaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen are supporters of comprehensive immigration reform. Republican operatives say Bush’s immigration stance will hurt his chances in the 2016 primary.

Jolly said, “For me, the experience that Jeb brings is markedly different from the experience of just about anybody else in the field — not just Marco, but anybody else in the field. I’m somebody who appreciates the diversity and length of Bush’s experience.”

Bush called the five Florida members and asked for their support, the lawmakers said. Ross said Bush also asked him for help in getting other members of the Florida GOP delegation on board.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said he isn’t ready to fully commit to a candidate yet, but that Bush is currently his top choice. Mica added that before he endorses, he’s interested in finding out more about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Bush has been more aggressive than Rubio in reaching out to Florida’s Republican lawmakers to ask for their support.

For instance, Rep. Gus Bilirakis said he had spoken to Rubio recently but not about his potential run for president. Bush has contacted Bilirakis directly about supporting his likely candidacy.

Bush, 62, late last year announced the formation of a political action committee aimed at exploring a White House run. Rubio has not yet taken such a step.

Of the 15 Florida GOP members The Hill spoke to, Rep. Tom Rooney is the only one who is ready to back Rubio.

Rooney called the 43-year-old Rubio a “dear friend” and pointed out that they both came into politics at the same time. Even though he also received a call from Bush asking for his support, the congressman said he is looking for a new generation of leadership.

“I think that [Marco’s] leadership is the kind of transformational leadership that our party really needs right now,” Rooney said, but he acknowledged that beating Bush would be a significant challenge for the freshman senator.

“I think people shouldn’t forget that when Marco started running against [former Florida Gov.] Charlie Crist, he was a huge underdog then as well,” Rooney continued. “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.”

Still, the groundswell of support for Bush underscores the narrative that Rubio can’t compete with the former governor for donors and operatives both in their home state of Florida and nationally.

Rubio’s office declined to comment for this article.

While the majority of Florida House Republicans are still uncommitted, Bush appears to have the advantage among several who are on the fence.

Rep. Daniel Webster told The Hill he hasn’t heard from Rubio about a potential presidential run but that he talks to Bush frequently. When The Hill interviewed Webster earlier this month, he said he had a voicemail from Bush and that he hadn’t returned the call yet.

Webster was the state Speaker while Bush was governor. The two politicians and their staff worked together closely back then.

Freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo said he won’t support anyone until the candidates officially announce, but he did note that Bush endorsed him and helped him fundraise when he was locked in a competitive primary contest with four other Republican candidates in 2014. Rubio didn’t endorse him until after the primary.

Curbelo said he hasn’t talked to Bush recently but he has been in contact with Bush staffers and allies.

Reps. Ted Yoho, Richard Nugent, Bill Posey, Jeff Miller and Curt Clawson all said they remain undecided on 2016. Reps. Vern Buchanan and Ron DeSantis did not return requests for comment.

Clawson talked at length about his admiration for Bush but said he’ll “always remember” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) helping him out when he was “getting pounded” in his primary and special elections. Clawson voted for Paul as Speaker of the House last month.

Bush’s deep ties in Florida were mentioned by several lawmakers.

Crenshaw, who backed Mitt Romney in his 2008 and 2012 bids for the White House, was president of the Florida Senate when Bush was governor. Ross said he and Bush supported each other’s failed first campaigns for office in the mid-1990s. Mica also said he has a “long relationship” with Bush and his family.

Several Bush backers praised Rubio too, but many also hinted that the 2016 campaign may not be his time just yet.

“Marco is a star in our party,” Jolly said. “It’s a conflict at times. You have two great potential candidates from our party.”

“I think he’s a great future leader on a national level,” said Ross.

“I’m supporting Jeb because I think that in the end, maybe Marco will not be running,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “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 added. “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.”

 

Florida GOP members backing Jeb Bush 
Rep. Ander Crenshaw
Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart
Rep. David Jolly
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Rep. Dennis Ross

Leaning Bush
Rep. John Mica

Backing Sen. Marco Rubio 
Rep. Tom Rooney

Undecided
Rep. Gus Bilirakis
Rep. Curt Clawson
Rep. Carlos Curbelo
Rep. Jeff Miller
Rep. Richard Nugent
Rep. Bill Posey
Rep. Daniel Webster
Rep. Ted Yoho

Did not respond
Rep. Vern Buchanan
Rep. Ron DeSantis