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Jeb Bush Takes Early Lead on Marco Rubio With Florida GOP

Miami Herald

Senator Marco Rubio or former Governor Jeb Bush? That’s a question Republican primary voters in Florida are likely to be asking themselves next year. But many in the state’s congressional delegation are already wrestling with it.

“Jeb Bush. Bush. Bush. Bush,” says Daytona Beach Congressman John Mica. It’s early in the process: only Texas Senator Ted Cruz has officially announced his run. Still, when it comes to Floridians, Mica says he’s firmly a Bush-man.

“Bush has incredible credentials. He was a great governor, innovator and he has executive experience - that's what we need,” Mica says.

While Rubio has been taking off time from his Senate duties to fundraise and give speeches in early voting states, Bush has been making moves, too. That includes actively courting the Florida congressional delegation, like Jacksonville Congressman Ander Crenshaw.

“Bush is a longtime friend and, you know, he asked me if I would help him if he decides to run and I said 'yes,'” Crenshaw says.

South Florida’s Mario Diaz-Balart and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are also early Bush backers. Ros-Lehtinen’s already comparing Bush to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – and that has this Republican itching for a general election between Clinton and Bush.

“So, he is a wonderful contrast to what the Democrats are going to offer, and I'm proud to stand with him,” Ros-Lehtinen says.

While Bush has locked up support from six Floridians, Rubio has the backing of only one: Tom Rooney of Central Florida. Rooney says while he remembers Bush’s time as governor from a distance, younger politicians like him have served with Rubio and seen him in action.

“I just think that, you know, I think I've come up with Marco a little bit. I mean him obviously on a much bigger level, but just getting to know him. I honestly don't know Gov. Bush very well so there's a personal aspect of it,” Rooney says.

Rooney predicts Rubio will also attract more young voters nationwide.

“I just believe in Marco. I mean I honestly think that he's going to be sort of that candidate that we're looking for that's going to be able to catapult not only our party but our country in a way that we haven't seen since Reagan,” Rooney argues.

And Ros-Lehtinen says her choosing Bush over Rubio isn’t a slight on the state’s junior senator.

“No, I love Marco as well so it's an embarrassment of riches because Marco is a wonderful, articulate leader, but he has got a bright future ahead of him. He's got a lot of options,” Ros-Lehtinen says.

It may be too soon for us to even be having this discussion. At a recent press conference where Rubio and Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee unveiled a broad overhaul of the U.S. tax code, Lee was asked if this was an endorsement of Rubio for president. Before Lee could answer, Rubio cut him off and said talk of endorsements are premature.

“Can I answer that first because I haven't announced I'm running for anything, so I don't think it's fair to ask someone who they're going to support for something they're not running for yet,” Rubio says.

That’s fair enough to Carlos Curbelo – a freshman congressman whose district stretches down to Key West. He’s one of a handful of Florida Republicans who are holding off on any formal endorsements for now. Curbelo does offer this glimpse into where he’ll eventually toss his support.

“I can bet a lot that I'm going to be supporting a Floridian for president of United States and that's wonderful. Miamians are our neighbors so it's even better,” Curbelo says.

While the 2016 presidential contest is ramping up earlier than ever before, voters still have lots of time before making up their minds. But expect to hear a lot more from Florida’s two presumed presidential aspirants in the coming months.

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