WASHINGTON – Jeb Bush is ready to launch a Republican presidential bid months in the making on Monday by asserting his commitment to the “most vulnerable in our society,” an approach targeting the broader American electorate even as he faces questions about his policies from conservatives in his own party.
Six months after he got the 2016 campaign started by saying he was considering a bid, the 62-year-old former Florida governor will formally enter the race with a speech and rally near his south Florida home at Miami Dade University, an institution selected because it serves a large and diverse student body that’s symbolic of the nation he seeks to lead.
“My core beliefs start with the premise that the most vulnerable in our society should be in the front of the line and not the back,” Bush says in a video featuring women, minorities and a disabled child to be aired at the event before his Monday afternoon announcement speech. “What we need is new leadership that takes conservative principles and applies them so that people can rise up.”
The Bush campaign has unveiled a new logo that features his first name with an exclamation point – Jeb! – a branding decision that conspicuously leaves out the Bush surname, perhaps underscoring that while it’s a name that commands respect from the GOP establishment, it also has drawbacks, including his brother’s difficult Iraq war legacy.
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Bush joins the crowded Republican campaign in some ways in a commanding position. The brother of one president and son of another, Bush has likely raised a recording- breaking amount of money to support his candidacy and conceived of a new approach on how to structure his campaign, both aimed at allowing him to make a deep run into the GOP primaries.
But on other measures, early public opinion polls among them, he has yet to break out. While unquestionably one of the top-tier candidates in the GOP race, he is also only one of several in a capable Republican field that does not have a true front-runner.
In the past six months, Bush has made clear he will remain committed to his core beliefs in the campaign to come – even if his positions on immigration and education standards are deeply unpopular among the conservative base of the party that plays an outsized role in the GOP primaries.
“I’m not going to change who I am,” Bush said as he wrapped up a week-long European trip this weekend. “I respect people who may not agree with me, but I’m not going to change my views because today someone has a view that’s different.”
Bush is one of 11 major Republicans in the hunt for the nomination. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are among those still deciding whether to join a field that could end up just shy of 20.
But few among them entered the race with such a high expectations of success as did Bush. Those expectations have seemed a burden at times.
Take, for example, the question of whether Bush will report raising $100 million for his campaign in the first six months of the year. Lost amid the “will he or won’t he” is that Bush probably will have raised more in six months than former presidential nominee Mitt Romney raised in the first year before the 2012 election.
Still, Bush’s return to politics since leaving the governor’s office in 2007 has been underwhelming at times.
His speaking style often leaves something to be desired, particularly when compared with some opponents. He sometimes gets snippy during long campaign days. While detailed policy questions are often his strength, he struggled for several days last month to answer a predictable question about the war in Iraq waged by his brother, former President George W. Bush.
Bush’s team acknowledges political challenges, but dismisses critics who decry a recent staffing shift as proof of a nascent campaign already in crisis. Just as his strengths are exaggerated, they say, so are his weaknesses.
“Gov. Bush recognizes, and he’s going to highlight on Monday, the fact that he needs to earn every vote – and he’s going to take nothing and nobody for granted,” campaign spokesman Tim Miller said.
Indeed, Bush’s team is about to get more aggressive. In his speech Monday, Bush plans to make the case that those involved in creating Washington’s problems can’t fix them. The point is designed to jab Republican senators – one of them his political protégé in Florida, Marco Rubio – who are also seeking the presidential nomination.
And Bush’s fundraising operation is not slowing down.
After touring four early-voting states, Bush quickly launches a private fundraising tour with stops in at least 11 cities before the end of the month. Two events alone – a reception at Union Station in Washington on Friday and a breakfast the following week on Seventh Avenue in New York – will account for almost $2 million in new campaign cash, according to invitations that list more than 75 donors committed to raising big money.