Jeb Bush’s rapid moves to jump-start fundraising and organizing for a possible 2016 presidential run are accelerating the timelines of other prospective GOP candidates and creating tumult within the still-forming field.
The actions by the former Florida governor, whose leadership PAC and super PAC were unveiled Tuesday, have put pressure on other contenders to reconsider how and when they will jump into the race.
“It’s going to force an early decision on the part of others,” said Fred Malek, a leading party fundraiser. “People are going to have to commit earlier than they had expected, because the recruitment not only of donors but of organizational and political talent is going to be going at a pretty fast pace.”
Bush’s aggressive entrance in the race has sped up the timing of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is preparing to make a public move toward running at the end of this month rather than waiting until February or March, according to a person familiar with discussions.
A spokeswoman for Christie did not return requests for comment about his plans. But a person close to the New Jersey governor said his decision will not be “predicated on anything anyone else does.”
Christie in particular has been squeezed by Bush, who has cast himself as the same kind of pragmatic, reform-oriented center-right candidate. Bush aides are intensely courting the New Jersey governor’s financial backers, seeking to persuade them to change sides.
Startled by Bush’s early offensive, Christie allies acknowledge that he has upended the competition for major party contributors.
“The Bushes have been very effective at going at Republican donors,” said former New Jersey governor Tom Kean (R). “They know that to a lot of people in the party, Jeb is the favorite son.”
Christie is spending the coming weeks traveling the country to attend the inauguration of GOP governors he helped elect as chairman of the Republican Governors Association last year.
Vin Weber, a former Minnesota congressman and top party strategist, said Christie cannot afford to wait for long.
“The question to me seems to be, how does it affect the message he tries to deliver?” Weber said. “A year ago, he would have been the establishment candidate. Now Governor Bush is ahead of him, and how is he going to position himself? I think that’s an open question.”
Other potential GOP White House contenders are also being boxed in by Bush.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is a longtime protege of the former governor whose donors in the state feel strong loyalty to Bush. Rubio is spending this month promoting his new book, “American Dreams,” and plans to make a 2016 decision soon.
A crop of sitting governors considering runs — including Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana — are not expected to jump into the race until later in the year.
“Those people that are not going to be directly compared to Jeb may have the luxury of waiting a little longer,” said Bobbie Kilberg, a top GOP fundraiser based in Virginia. “Those people who are clearly in the center-right sphere do not have that luxury.”
Meanwhile, there are already signs of what is expected to be a fierce battle for the party’s conservative base. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee announced Saturday that he is contemplating running again, while CNN first reported that former senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania plans to meet with longtime aides in Washington next week. “He’s obviously seriously considering a run,” said spokesman Matt Beynon.
The early rush of activity is “going to cause an acceleration of bundler commitments,” said Ray Washburne, a Dallas investor who serves as finance chairman for the Republican National Committee. Most donors, he added, are hoping to hold out until at least early February to get a fuller sense of the field.
One major party donor, who is already being bombarded with calls from advisers to several potential contenders, said the solicitation is at a volume that he would not have expected until at least March
“It’s difficult — I’m completely torn,” said the donor, who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations. “While people believe they’re going to hold off, once it ramps up more, people are going to be saying, ‘It’s going, I gotta go, too.’ ”
The competition began in mid-December, when Bush announced that he was “actively exploring” a presidential run. The timing caught party leaders and other potential candidates off guard.
He is now moving to capitalize on his early lead. The leadership political action committee and super PAC announced on Tuesday — both named Right to Rise — were set up by the same attorney. The staff members involved with them have substantial leeway to work together since Bush is not yet a candidate or federal officeholder.
The leadership PAC, which can make contributions to candidates, will serve as a hub for Bush’s political efforts, from commissioning polls and producing ads to making hires for his digital team.
Bush announced the leadership PAC in an Instagram video filmed on a Manhattan street, calling it “a PAC to support candidates that believe in conservative principles to allow all Americans to rise up.” In another video, he delivered the same message in fluent Spanish.
On Wednesday, he is set to attend a fundraiser in Greenwich, Conn., the home town of onetime senator Prescott Bush, Bush’s grandfather.
Among the event’s co-hosts are former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Richard Breeden, who was appointed by the governor’s father, George H.W. Bush; David McCormick, who served as a treasury official under brother George W. Bush; and cousin Debbie Walker Stapleton and her husband, Craig, a co-owner of the Texas Rangers with George W. Bush.
More fundraising trips are in the works, including stops in Washington and New York.
Tom Hamburger and Philip Rucker contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that a leadership PAC and a super PAC supporting Jeb Bush were set up by different attorneys. In fact, while the PACs have separate treasurers, they were set up by the same attorney.