The son of former President Bush, a likely favorite early in the race among Florida Republicans, said he plans a formal announcement closer to the primaries. "I have every intention to run, but I want to do it at my own pace," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush, 39, isn't alone in his designs on the Republican nomination. State Secretary of State Jim Smith says he will run, state Senate President Ander Crenshaw is considering, and Treasurer Tom Gallagher is seen as a possible contender. Democratic hopefuls are effectively restrained at this point by Gov. Lawton Chiles, who hasn't decided whether to seek re-election.
Mr. Bush has recruited a savvy and seasoned team to run his campaign. David Hill, a Houston pollster who campaigned for former Gov. Bob Martinez, will be chief strategist. The Bush '94 team also includes a Virginia opinion-polling firm and Virginia-based media consultant Alex Castellanos, who made Mr. Martinez's campaign commercials.
"It's my assumption, based on what he has told me, that he does intend to run," Mr. Hill said. "He still has to cross some T's and dot some I's before he enters."
Although the election is 22 months away, Mr. Bush says he probably will open a campaign account soon to handle such matters as paying the consultants he has signed up. "It is accurate to say that I sought out their involvement in the future campaign," Mr. Bush said. "I am very happy that they are committed to a future candidacy, but beyond that, there is nothing that drives starting early or starting late."
Mr. Bush, a partner with developer Armando Codina at Miami's Codina Bush Group, was state commerce secretary under Mr. Martinez and was active in the state Republican Party. He was chairman of his father's campaign for president in Florida last year.
The biggest question mark is Mr. Chiles. Elected governor on a wave of popularity in 1990 after 18 years in the U.S. Senate, the Democrat's standing in public opinion polls has plummeted. He has sought, and failed to win, significant new taxes in the Legislature and is trying again this year.
Early moves by potential Republican challengers won't force the governor's decision, a chief aide says.
Mr. Hill says Mr. Bush's pollsters, Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Va., already have conducted a scientific sampling of Republicans in Florida showing Mr. Bush and Mr. Gallagher neck-and-neck at this point -- with just over 20 percent of the vote each -- and Mr. Smith and Mr. Crenshaw trailing.