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POLITICS: PennAve

Jeb Bush weighs running for president, but little has changed since 2012

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Politics,Florida,2016 Elections,Campaigns,PennAve,George W. Bush,Rebecca Berg,Jeb Bush,Magazine

Before he could run for president, Jeb Bush had a few key factors to consider.

After years of government service, Bush, a former governor of Florida, wanted to make money in the private sector. He wondered if his family could withstand the rigors of a national campaign -- and whether the bruised Bush family name could, too.

That was in 2012, when Bush decided he would not run for president. But the calculus has hardly changed in the intervening years.

Now, Bush is once again weighing whether to give the White House a go, and he discusses his considerations in the same terms in public as he does in private with his trusted advisers and allies.

“The thinking part is not really related to the politics of all this but whether I can do it with joy in my heart and whether it’s going to be right for my family,” Bush said publicly late last year of his decision, and has repeated since. “Those are the two considerations.”

If Bush’s thinking hasn’t shifted, however, the spotlight suddenly has — and it’s now trained squarely on him.

His close allies marvel at how the Republican Party has seemingly rediscovered Bush as other potential candidates, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, have lost some of their luster amid scandal or early missteps.

But, in his steady schedule of public and private political appearances, Bush hasn't changed tack. He has made endorsements, such as for Republican Thom Tillis in North Carolina's Senate race; he has traveled to Tennessee, Nevada and New Mexico to support Republican governors; and he has kept in close contact with the Republican Party's biggest donors, including Sheldon Adelson, who welcomed Bush as a keynote speaker at a recent Republican Jewish Coalition event in Las Vegas.

“He’ll continue to do events and make endorsements throughout 2014, and he would do that regardless,” said one Bush aide. “There is nothing in his calendar that is specific to a run [for president].”

Although it might not hurt Bush's presidential prospects to have hosted South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to Jacksonville, Fla., for a fundraiser, or to invite Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to Miami for a fundraiser later this month.

Bush is not to the stage of some would-be Republican candidates, such as Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., of having assembled a team of advisers should he run for president. But Bush's political network is wide and deep -- less an inner circle, aides say, than a web of thousands of people.

Among the trusted voices in Bush's network are Sally Bradshaw, a longtime Bush adviser who would have worked on Gov. Haley Barbour's presidential campaign in 2012; Mike Murphy, who led media efforts during Bush's successful gubernatorial campaigns; Jack Oliver, a fundraiser with deep Bush family ties and experience; and Al Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union.

But the decision to run for president will rest with Bush alone.

“This is a pretty internal decision for him, and his family will play a key part,” said one Bush aide. “Having run for office three times, having seen his family run, he understands what a national campaign would look like.”

It is not certain that Bush's family will be ready or willing for such an undertaking. Although Bush's son, George P. Bush, has taken up the family's politics mantle with a race for land commissioner in Texas, Bush's wife, Columba, has tended to avoid the spotlight. The family has also faced some run-ins with the law that would surely be rehashed in the context of a presidential campaign: Columba Bush was fined in 1999 for failing to declare $19,000 worth of clothing purchases made abroad, and their daughter, Noelle Bush, was arrested in 2002 on charges of prescription fraud.

The Bush family, for its part, has in recent weeks gamely hopped on board the Jeb bandwagon in public statements, including former President George W. Bush, who recently said his brother would make a “great president.”

"I'm thinking about running for president,” Jeb Bush acknowledged recently, causing an even greater stir.

But, Bush’s allies say, he’s made no secret of thinking about it for years. Whether thought will provoke action in this election cycle is another question entirely.

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