WASHINGTON – Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and brother of President George W. Bush, has decided not to run for the U.S. Senate, ending weeks of speculation that he would try to preserve a family power center in the nation’s capital.
In contrast to his older brother, Jeb Bush left office with high approval ratings and a reputation as a master of policy. He was considered the strongest contender for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Mel Martinez in 2010.
Bush’s decision forces the GOP to defend a seat in a one-time Republican stronghold where Barack Obama’s presidential effort has built a potent Democratic campaign machinery.
“There was a lot of support, and support from interesting places,” Bush said in an interview, “but this would have been a big detour in my life.”
Bush said he intends to focus on his growing real estate business and to devote time to his family. He spent much of Tuesday calling friends and supporters to give them the news.
Still, the former governor said he would continue to advocate for conservative ideas, and he offered a bit of advice to fellow Republicans: Don’t target the new president with the same kind of partisan attacks that he said Democrats had hurled unfairly at his brother – attacks that he summed up as “Bush-hating.”
“The opposition should be about ideas, and not what my brother suffered through in the last eight years,” he said. “I don’t wish that on President Obama.”
Bush said he had been impressed so far with Obama’s appointments and called the president-elect someone who is “smart, disciplined, not rash.”
Republicans from Washington, D.C., to Miami and Texas – including Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush – had hoped that Jeb would jump into the Senate race.
Most experts believe he easily could have raised the needed funds and re-energized his once-powerful political machine in Florida. And, in a twist, many said that Bush’s combined policy expertise and political acumen could have helped him forge a rebuilding plan for a Republican Party left in disarray at the conclusion of his brother’s tenure.
Jeb Bush is particularly popular among evangelicals and other conservatives. He also scores high marks with Hispanics, a fast-growing group that has been abandoning the GOP.