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Former Florida Governor to Launch Political-Action Committee in January

Jeb Bush, the son and brother of past presidents, kick-started the 2016 presidential race Tuesday by announcing plans to “actively explore” a presidential campaign, an unexpectedly early declaration that ramps up pressure on potential rivals and reshuffles the policy debate.

The move by the 61-year-old former Florida governor essentially marks the beginning of the presidential sweepstakes. With a national profile, access to big donors and iconic status in the nation’s largest swing state, Mr. Bush ’s move puts instant pressure on a sprawling field of as many as two dozen other Republicans weighing 2016 bids.

His online announcement amounts to a pre-emptive strike against efforts by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and allies of the 2012 GOP nominee, Mitt Romney , to lock in major donors or at least keep them on the sidelines.

Mr. Bush’s step toward a campaign also threatens to undermine the aspirations of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio , his onetime protégé, who shares the same home state and an overlapping political network there.


“I think Jeb is trying to clear the field,” said Bobbie Kilberg, a prominent Republican donor who worked in the White House for Mr. Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush. “He’s now gotten out ahead of everyone else, and I think this may force other candidates to move earlier than they had wanted to.”

Mr. Bush’s potential candidacy also has implications for the expected Democratic front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. His younger GOP rivals could try to make the case for going in a different direction by lumping Mr. Bush and Mrs. Clinton together as tired figures from the past. That argument, however, would lose its potency in a general election match-up between Mr. Bush and Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Bush said he would set up a political action committee in January to “promote leaders, ideas and policies.” A PAC also allows him to raise money, hire staff and reach grass-roots supporters, setting up the kind of political apparatus that many potential rivals have been building for months. The next step would be for Mr. Bush to set up an exploratory committee, and aides stressed that he hasn’t made a final decision. Still, the move was a big step in that direction.

In Florida, Mr. Bush governed as a social and fiscal conservative, though he has broken with his party’s conservative base on immigration and education policy—two issues likely to figure prominently in the Republican primary. He has advocated a broad immigration overhaul, including legal status for some immigrants here illegally, and has championed national Common Core education standards, viewed with suspicion by his party’s conservative wing.

He also has advocated an aggressive U.S. role in foreign affairs and may be pressed to defend the Iraq war effort pursued by his brother, President George W. Bush . One potential 2016 GOP candidate, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, has questioned the wisdom of that war, setting up a debate over intervention abroad with a personal overtone….(read more)


—Reid J. Epstein and Josh Dawsey contributed to this article.

Write to Beth Reinhard at beth.reinhard@wsj.com and Patrick O’Connor at patrick.oconnor@wsj.com

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