MIAMI — Jeb Bush is ready to launch a Republican presidential bid months in the making 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 College, an institution selected because it serves a large and diverse student body 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.”
Before Monday’s event, the Bush campaign unveiled a new logo that features his first name with an exclamation point — Jeb! — a branding decision that conspicuously leaves out the Bush surname.
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 record 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.
Bush’s team acknowledges the political challenges ahead, 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 also are seeking the presidential nomination.
Rubio went another way on Monday.
“In politics, people throw around the word ‘friend’ so much it often has little real meaning. This is not one of those times,” Rubio said in a statement released by his campaign. “When I call Jeb Bush my friend, I mean he is someone I like, care for and respect. … He is a passionate advocate for what he believes, and I welcome him to the race.”
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 already committed donors.
Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Tallinn, Estonia and Julie Bykowicz in Park City, Utah contributed to this report.