They’re friends, are fellow Miamians, and have a mentor-mentee relationship.
But if U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and his mentor, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, were to run against each other in the Republican presidential primary in 2016, who would have an edge?
Some believe Bush would, given his political pedigree, have the advantage when it comes to getting GOP support, Latino votes, and funds from major donors, among other things.
“There wouldn’t be any question that Jeb Bush would be the stronger candidate,” said Fernand Amandi, executive director of the Miami-based public opinion research firm Bendixen and Amandi.
“He is the most capable of the Republicans,” Amandi said, referring to those in the GOP who have been mentioned as potential 2016 contenders. "He is a unique Republican who can appeal to the conservative wing of the party, the moderate wing, and he can make a claim to win over a larger percent of Hispanic votes.”
Amandi said that Bush is field-tested, and has a long track record.
“He is established,” he said, “from a policy perspective.”
By comparison, Amandi said, Rubio remains something of an enigma, particularly to the conservative base, who criticized the junior senator for his central role in the passage in June of a bipartisan Senate immigration reform measure that included a pathway to citizenship for people who are here illegally.
“Rubio was relatively unknown in conservative circles” outside Florida before he became a U.S. senator, Amandi said.
“The immigration reform bill was the first betrayal of what they thought” Rubio stood for, he said.
But other political observers believe Rubio is more electable, and surely more likely to win a Republican primary than Bush.
Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that promotes conservative values and ideals within the Latino community, believes Rubio is seriously leaning toward running in 2016.
Neither Rubio nor Bush have said they are running, only that they have not yet decided.
“If you look at all the different [GOP] potential presidential candidates, he’ll be ready if he had to announce tomorrow in terms of his campaign infrastructure,” said Aguilar, who served in the administration of President George W. Bush as chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship.
“Jeb has the interest [in running],” said Aguilar, who knows both Rubio and Bush, “but in the past even though he had the interest he avoided it because of family reasons.”
“The establishment is without a candidate – Chris Christie hurt himself,” Aguilar said, “not because of the issue of the [George Washington] bridge itself, but because the issue uncovered who he is.”
Some observers believe that because of the close relationship that Rubio and Bush have, if one really wants to run in 2016, the other will not.
Rubio recently said, however, that Bush’s decision about whether to go for the GOP nomination in 2016 will not influence his own inclination to run or not.
“In terms of my decision-making for next year, it will be based on me – not on anybody else,” Rubio said in an interview with Politico when asked about the prospects of a Bush candidacy. “And I think that’s true for anyone thinking about it – including himself,” he said.
“It’s not that unusual to see people who have been allies in the past end up running for an office like that,” he added.
Be that as it may, some experts believe that if Bush really wants to run, Rubio, who is 42, will defer, given that the former governor is 61 and this could be his last chance.
If Bush were to run, though, he’d have to gain credibility with the conservative base, Aguilar said.
“The one who really needs to tweak his message and improve his chances in the primary is, ironically, Jeb,” Aguilar said.
That is because the conservative segment sees Bush as an establishment Republican – something that this group sees as another face of Big Government.
“They don’t want someone they think will continue growing the federal government, and government spending,” Aguilar said.
Many conservatives see Bush as too close to big business and Wall Street.
“Marco has a better connection with the base, he has cross-over appeal, he has establishment GOP support,” Aguilar said.
Bush would get more of the Latino vote, both Amandi and Aguilar agree.
“He could get more than 40 percent of Latino voters,” Amandi said, besting even his brother’s impressive win of more than 40 percent of Latino support in 2004.
Someone who could do well with both Latinos and establishment Republicans, and even conservatives, Aguilar said, is neither Bush nor Rubio – it’s Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Perry, who unsuccessfully pursued the GOP nomination in 2012 presidential election, said he would not seek re-election as governor, but has been making presidential candidate-like moves, observers say.
He delivered a strong speech at the key conservative annual gathering – CPAC – earlier this year.
“His speech was by far the best at CPAC,” Aguilar said.
“Rick Perry entered the race too late last time, this time he’s starting early,” he said.
Recently, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who is a friend of both Rubio and Bush, said she would support Bush in 2016 if he ran.
She dismissed the notion that Rubio would run against Bush. In an interview with The Hill, she touted Bush’s electability, though added: "Maybe some folks don't think that [Bush is] as conservative as he should be, but he's a very pragmatic conservative and compassionate man as well.”
Later, Ros-Lehtinen, for whom Rubio had been an intern, tweeted: "I'm w/Marco also. Wasn't either/or. Both."
The Democrats, for their part, said whether Rubio or Bush runs, it would be a distinction without a difference.
“It doesn’t matter who the Republican Party nominates in 2016 if the GOP continues to support policies that are bad for the middle class,” said Pili Tobar, a press secretary for the Democratic National Committee. “The GOP is obsessed with repealing health care for millions of Americans, and still blocking immigration reform, a minimum wage increase and the Paycheck Fairness Act.”
“No matter who the Republican nominee is, they represent the party of offensive rhetoric, and of hurtful policies for everyday Americans.”
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente