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All signs point to Jeb Bush prepping for 2016 presidential run

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush attends a Long Island Association luncheon in Woodbury, N.Y.
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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush attends a Long Island Association luncheon in Woodbury, N.Y.

It's looking more and more like the 2016 presidential race will include John Ellis "Jeb" Bush, the former governor of Florida and a favorite of centrist Wall Street Republicans.

Bush, who friends say will make a final decision after the November midterm elections, is said to be deep in preparation on issues beyond his traditional areas of focus on education and immigration policy.

One person who met with Bush recently told me the former governor spoke passionately on foreign policy and economics and sounded very much like someone who plans to mount a presidential campaign. This person said Bush's main concern remains the impact of a campaign on his family, particularly his wife Columba, who does not like politics or the limelight.

And even if Columba Bush manages to tolerate a campaign, people close the family ask, could she accept the public role demanded of first ladies?

But others say the family concerns are overblown and that barring a late change of heart, Bush is almost certain to run. These people say Bush's father, former president George H.W. Bush, strongly urged his son to mount a campaign at a recent gathering at the family's compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.

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People close to the family say Jeb Bush does not want to see New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dominate the moderate lane in 2016. Bush also does not believe Mitt Romney will mount another campaign and believes the nomination of someone like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., would produce an electoral disaster for Republicans akin to the 1964 wipeout of GOP nominee Barry Goldwater.

As Mike Allen reports in Tuesday's Politico Playbook, Bush plans a heavy travel schedule for GOP candidates this fall including hot Senate races in North Carolina and Kansas. Bush has also done heavy fundraising for GOP candidates and the party over the summer. He also will host an event Tuesday night at his home in Tampa, Florida, for GOP senate candidates Tom Cotton of Arkansas; Joni Ernst of Iowa; Cory Gardner of Colorado; Dan Sullivan of Alaska; and Monica Wehby of Oregon.

All of the fundraising activity makes it seems very much like Bush is putting together a network of support for a bid in 2016 that could see him square off in a general election against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Such a Bush-Clinton race would harken back to the 1992 campaign between Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, a fact some reject as tired dynasty politics and others see as a possibly edifying campaign of ideas between party heavyweights.

But even if Jeb Bush does run he is certainly not guaranteed the nomination. Candidates such as Christie and possibly others will fight hard in the establishment, Wall Street-friendly lane. And Bush will get all he can handle and possibly more from the likes of Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who excite the party's conservative activist base and could score early primary and caucus wins. Bush's friend Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., could also seek to unify disparate wings of the party and present a fresher face for the general election.

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And unlike in 2012, when Romney could simply wait out conservative flavor-of-the-week candidates, whoever emerges from that pack in 2016 will almost certainly have the financial backing to compete all the way through the primary season. That means if Jeb Bush runs, he will have to run all-out and be prepared for a nasty dog fight and not expect gentle coronation.

—By Ben White. White is Politico's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet Politico Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney]. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.