February 18, 2015


Inside Jeb Bush's 'shock and awe' launch : While Bush avoided the spotlight last year, aides were making a plan. (BEN WHITE and MARC CAPUTO 2/18/15, Politico)

Their strategy was to publicly downplay his interest in the race and avoid media attention, while quietly laying the groundwork for a launch that would catch much of Washington -- and many of his potential rivals -- flat-footed. While the much of the political world focused on Chris Christie, Rand Paul and even Bush's fellow Floridian Marco Rubio, Bush was quietly collecting political chits, developing a cohesive platform, and preparing for a fundraising blitz intended to grab the front-runner's chair, scare potential competitors like Mitt Romney and Christie, and put Bush on such a firm financial footing that he could devote more time to retail politics when it really counted.

Bush's first step, after that November date at the Marriott Marquis, was to hire full-time help. Within a month, he had dipped into his personal fortune to hire four staffers: longtime adviser and former chief of staff Sally Bradshaw, former spokeswoman Kristy Campbell, longtime aide Brandi Brown and political aide Josh Venable. Bush's political consultant, Mike Murphy, joined in conference calls from his California home.

Bradshaw describes the following year as a "process" in which staffers carefully set up the building blocks for a massive campaign, while the would-be candidate engaged in his own soul-searching under the radar screen. Even unscripted moments like his mother's declaration in January 2014 that she hoped he wouldn't run helped serve his purposes -- allowing the family to acknowledge the audacity of a third Bush presidency while masking Bush's preparations.

"We just do what people who work for Jeb Bush always do, which is build the plan, execute the plan and don't talk about it," Bradshaw said.

In keeping with that line, Bradshaw didn't provide the specifics of the "plan," although she indicated it was more a series of dos and don'ts for 2014.

Do: Travel, fund-raise for other candidates, quietly vet Bush's business dealings and other potential points of attack, and entertain calls from supporters to run.

Don't: Establish a political committee, travel to first-in-the-nation Iowa or explicitly start lining up donors or more staffers until year's end.

"Donors called me all the time. I didn't go to donors and solicit their support," Bradshaw said. "If a donor called and said 'Is Jeb Bush running?' I would say 'I don't know. He's going through a process of thinking very seriously about this. What do you think he should do?'"

If the donor responded, "Well, I think he should run," Bradshaw said she'd reply: "Let's get all of your contact information."

Bradshaw added that she had no idea what Bush's ultimate decision would be, but she collected donor information as a safeguard in case Bush took the next step.

Bush's announcement that he was seriously considering a run was, as it turned out, exquisitely timed -- just after Thanksgiving of last year.

"Jeb's pace surprised a lot of us," said Scott Reed, the former campaign manager for Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign and a longtime GOP operative who is neutral in this race. "He dominated the holiday season's headlines while everybody else was wrapping presents."

At that moment, Bush's team hit the phones and emails with what some have called a "shock and awe" campaign that could raise between $50 million and $100 million by the end of the first quarter of the year.

"All that matters in this first quarter is fundraising," said Reed. "Nobody else has done what he has done."

Indeed, by the end of the quarter, Bush's team believes, many would-be competitors will have joined Romney on the sidelines, unwilling or unable to compete with the Bush juggernaut, while the candidate can be freed up to address the many serious questions about why another Bush is the best solution to the nation's problems.

Posted by at February 18, 2015 2:08 PM

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