TALLAHASSEE -- Fresh from electing Jeb Bush as governor, many of Florida's leading Republicans have quickly rallied around the presidential hopes of his older brother, George W. Bush.
George W. Bush, the Texas governor, has already tapped Florida Republicans for hundreds of thousands of dollars to help his expected campaign next year. At the same time, at least 90 of Florida's 98 GOP lawmakers have pledged to support a Bush presidential bid.
"Everywhere I go, it's George Bush Jr., George Bush Jr., George Bush Jr.," said Sen. Jim King, a Jacksonville Republican who has signed on as a Bush supporter.
Though George W. Bush also has emerged as the Republican front-runner nationally, his brother's influence with GOP leaders and activists has helped make Florida a stronghold. Jim Kane, editor of the political journal Florida Voter, said the support is so strong that other GOP presidential candidates might give up on Florida and focus elsewhere.
"The No. 1 reason you've got to put at the top of the list [for the strong support] is his brother, Jeb Bush," said Kane, who polls voters on state races.
The carry-over of support is apparent. For example, of the first 433 Floridians who contributed to George W. Bush, at least 195 also contributed to Jeb Bush or had family members or businesses that contributed to the governor's race last year, state and federal elections records show.
The Florida contributions to George W. Bush, which came during a three-week period in March, totaled at least $340,000, including $20,500 from the Jacksonville area. By comparison, Republican contender Elizabeth Dole raised at least $41,000 statewide during that period.
Nationally, George W. Bush raised about $7.6 million during March, with the largest chunk coming from Texas. He will file updated contribution totals in July.
The Texas governor, who is a son of former President George Bush, has not formally entered next year's presidential race. But he has formed an exploratory committee that has allowed him to raise money and established him as the frontrunner over Republicans such as Dole and publisher Steve Forbes.
Florida is important in presidential races, at least in part, because it has a large population and is a fertile area for raising money. Nevertheless, George W. Bush might not get a major boost from the state's voters as he tries to win the GOP nomination.
The state's influence dropped when other large states, such as California and New York, scheduled their primaries a week before the March 14 Florida primary. A move to shift Florida's primary to March 7 died during this year's legislative session after it became entangled in a controversial campaign-finance reform bill.
If George W. Bush wins the GOP nomination, however, Florida's support could play a more important role. …