Will Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush Run For President In 2016?

Jeb Bush will get the question Friday, but don't expect a definitive answer.

Bush will say something. But his speech and Q&A session won't provide a "yes" or "no" about the former Florida governor's plans for 2016, forcing everyone to continue reading tea leaves for clues about whether he'll attempt to become the third Bush to serve as president.

Interest in his intentions is so great that a total of 22 local and national media outlets — including CNN, FOX and Univision — plan to cover Bush's appearance before a filled-to-capacity gathering of top South Florida business executives and political leaders.

If Bush decides to run, he'll instantly become a Top Tier candidate, possibly the front runner, for the Republican nomination. Looking farther ahead to the general election, he's the Republican that many Democrats fear the most.

"Anyone who's being honest would say he'd be a formidable candidate," said Andrew Weinstein, a Coral Springs lawyer and Florida Democratic Party finance chairman who was a major fundraiser for President Barack Obama. "He certainly would be a formidable general election candidate."

Will he or won't he?

Speculation about Bush's plans has surged in 2014 as the fortunes of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have declined under the glare of criminal, legislative and media investigations sparked by his administration's closure of approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge in an apparent act of political retaliation.

Christie had marketed himself as a more pragmatic, less doctrinaire, action-oriented problem-solver. Bush supporters see him in a similar mold, and Christie's slide may allow him to fulfill that role.

Bush, 61, who lives in Coral Gables, has said he'll decide late in 2014 with these criteria: "Can I do it joyfully?" and "Is it right for my family?"

Without clear signals from Bush himself, fans and detractors fill the vacuum with theories.

The reality is that no one — including Bush himself — knows the answer for sure, said Justin Sayfie, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer-lobbyist, publisher of the online political news site Sayfie Review, and adviser to Bush when he was governor. "All the people I talk to are trying to put odds on the likelihood of his running for president, and it's an impossible game because he is in the process of making that decision."

Quest for the nomination

Besides his own background as a two-term governor, as the son of George H.W. Bush, the 41st president, and brother of George W. Bush, the 43rd president, he'd have instant credibility and the ability to raise mountains of campaign cash by mobilizing the family network of financial supporters.

Though Bush governed Florida as a conservative, the Republican Party has shifted much farther to the right since he was last on a ballot, when he won re-election in 2002.

A March 6 ABC News/Washington Post poll showed Bush topping a list of nine potential candidates among self-identified moderate Republicans. He was seventh among very conservative Republicans.

"Jeb would be a superb candidate for the Republican brand," said Mark Foley, a Palm Beach County Republican who served 12 years in Congress.

Mike Jackson, the CEO of AutoNation who will lead Friday's post-speech Q&A before the Broward Workshop, thinks Bush would be a good president. "Jeb Bush is a pragmatic problem-solver. He does his homework and genuinely understands the complexity of issues and has the ability to find common ground for the greater good," Jackson said via email.

But Bush's positions on two big issues — support for immigration reform and support for the Common Core curriculum — are anathema to much of the tea party and other grassroots conservatives. Common Core, an effort to alter the way critical subjects are taught and tested, is seen by many conservatives as a federal takeover of local schools.

Karin Hoffman of Lighthouse Point, founder of the tea party group DC Works for US, said Bush "wasn't palatable" before Common Core. "When he made that his core issue, then in essence he became enemy No. 1 to the grassroots."

The general election