WASHINGTON — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday announced he will “actively explore” a 2016 presidential run, and I have learned that Bush plans to hit Chicago on Friday to meet with major Illinois GOP donors and fundraisers.
The main Bush event in Chicago is a breakfast with a small number of folks who have known him or his family, which includes, as we all know, two former presidents.
Though the political purpose of the Jeb Bush breakfast in Chicago was not explicitly stated to the invitees, with his Tuesday declaration of interest in 2016, there is an agenda.
Bush said in a Tuesday Facebook post that he will establish a political action committee in January to “help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation.”
“The PAC’s purpose will be to support leaders, ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans. In the coming months, I hope to visit with many of you and have a conversation about restoring the promise of America.”
Bush has many friends in the mainstream Illinois Republican establishment — but so do New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The three share the same high-end donor base in Illinois and are all also considering 2016 primary bids.
“I think [Bush] represents our best opportunity to win back the White House,” Ray LaHood, the former Illinois congressman and transportation secretary, told me.
Even with the potential of Bush fatigue, “I think Jeb would be the strongest candidate for us,” former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar told me.
There are other Republicans considering a run with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., the furthest along; also looking at 2016 are Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Texas Gov. Rick Perry; Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., among others.
But they will be viewed by the Illinois GOP money mainstreamers as second tier compared to Bush, Christie and Romney.
That group united over Romney in 2012 and Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner in 2014. But those Rauner/Romney Illinois Republicans may wait a bit to see how things play out.
Christie, who just stepped down as the chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association, pumped millions of RGA dollars into the Rauner campaign and made several visits to the state. Bush headlined a Chicago fundraiser for Rauner on Sept. 18.
A holiday party earlier this month in Lombard hosted by Dan Goodwin, the CEO of the Inland Real Estate Group, featured former President George W. Bush, and the guest list included the GOP Illinois players Jeb Bush will need on his side. Republican fundraiser Lisa Wagner helped on the Goodwin event- and Jeb Bush, I hear, has reached out to her.
Rauner, who will be sworn in on Jan. 12, will stay out of 2016 presidential politics, I’m told.
But Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., running for re-election in 2016, will do best with a mainstream centrist Republican presidential candidate at the top of the Illinois ticket for the general election.
So far, no viable conservative Illinois Republican has surfaced to challenge Kirk, who always needs to guard his right flank. The only two Democrats being mentioned are Rep. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Bill Foster.
FOOTNOTE: A Fox News poll released on Tuesday puts Romney at 19 percent; Bush, 10 percent; Christie, Huckabee and Paul, 8 percent; Walker, 7 percent; Ryan and retired doctor Ben Carson, 6 percent; Cruz, 5 percent; and Rubio, 4 percent.