Jeb-mentum vs. Mitt-mania: Why Bush/Romney fight is already on

Jeb Bush's money-raising committee suggests he's already in the race. Mitt Romney seems to want everybody to know that his campaign locomotive is getting polished up too, even it if hasn’t yet left the station.

Charles Krupa/AP/file
Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney supporters while introducing New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown at a farm in Stratham, N.H. Romney told a small group of Republican donors on Friday that he's considering a third run at the White House.

Call it Jeb-mentum vs. Mitt-mania: Bush versus Romney for the 2016 Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States.

This isn’t a matchup that might be. It’s already happening (probably). So get psyched for it now.

Here’s our construct for this: Jeb Bush is already running. That’s the import of his recent announcements that he’s set up new “Right to Rise” money-collecting committees, and is exploring a presidential bid. He’s in the same position as Hillary Rodham Clinton: At this point, the default decision is “go." It would be much more of a surprise if he (or she) decides to stop the train and get off before it’s time to make an official candidacy announcement.

Mitt Romney, meanwhile, seems to want everybody to know that his campaign locomotive is getting polished up too, even it if hasn’t yet actually left the station.

That’s the bottom line from last week’s reports that he told a told a private meeting of former donors that he’s considering a third presidential run.

This isn’t as clear an indication of intent, of course. It’s possible the sources who’ve leaked this statement are diehard supporters who really want Romney to try again, or ex-Romney campaign officials who are angling for another job.

But then again, why was Romney holding a meeting of former campaign donors in the first place? The time for passing out commemorative T-shirts from the 2012 race is past. The most likely explanation is that he wants to indicate he might need their money later – so they shouldn’t be sending it to the nascent Bush campaign just yet.

Look, both men know that the time to move is now. Gov. Chris Christie (R) of New Jersey looks like he’s slipping. Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas have policy or personality flaws that may keep them from actually winning the nomination. Other contenders for slot of GOP establishment choice, such as Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, have yet to build much name recognition amongst the general public.

Yet the campaign has already begun, even though voting is a year off. We’re in what political scientists call the “invisible primary” portion of the long presidential march. Candidates ask state chairman for support, cadge donations from check bundlers, hire staff, and draw up strategies.

Candidates who corral the majority of potential backing in the invisible primary almost never lose, writes Nate Cohn, in an interesting backgrounder in The Upshot, the data analysis and background section of The New York Times.

Many otherwise-plausible candidates who don’t get much invisible primary support decide not to run. Others do, but never gain momentum. Think Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor who sputtered in the 2012 GOP race.

“The invisible primary is well underway, and it will confer the resources, attention and credibility necessary to win a presidential nomination,” writes Cohn.

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