MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 17: Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush hands out items for Holiday Food Baskets to those in need outside the Little Havana offices of CAMACOL, the Latin American Chamber of Commerce on December 17, 2014 in Miami, Florida. Mr. Bush spoke to the media as he handed out food to the annoucement that the United States and Cuba worked out a deal for the release of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Joe Raedle—Getty Images
January 8, 2015 4:47 PM EST

Jeb Bush’s announcement last month that he is going to “actively explore” a White House run next year has set off a flurry of activity, including a scramble to bring on aides to help launch two political action committees and meetings with donors for support. With all of the news about fundraising committees and shots at Hillary, the Jeb Bush rollout may look like shock and awe, but the former Florida governor is still playing a hastily constructed game of catch-up.

The flurry of activity evidenced in the past several weeks, operatives and consultants said, is less a reflection of Bush’s strength than it is an effort to replicate the work other likely 2016 candidates have been carrying out for months or years. But it is also no less important for the son and brother of presidents who has been out of politics for nearly a decade.

Bush launched a PAC and a super PAC this week to support like-minded candidates across the country and his own political aspirations, recruiting aides to help run the effort and raising well over $100,000 online in days. He delivered a critique of the former Secretary of State at a fundraiser in Connecticut on Wednesday night, and has reached out to donors across the country.

But he is still behind on rivals who have been actively exploring White House runs far longer. Sen. Rand Paul, who has a heavily staffed political operation in early states, as well as a committed digital firm, that has been collecting email addresses and raising money for years. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s grassroots donor list touches all 50 states owing to his tightly contested recall election in 2012, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is coming off a cycle raising more than $100 million for the Republican Governors Association.

According to people familiar with the arrangements, nearly all of Bush’s hires outside of his core team of advisors are non-exclusive, meaning some of the firms and operatives assisting him launch his political action committee and super PAC have not fully committed to following him should he announce a presidential campaign and are assisting other potential entrants in the meantime with their political work as well.

Yet the Bush effort is still turning heads, especially from his likely opposition. Aides to several other candidates say they not rethinking their announcement timetables, but are preparing to become more obvious about their preparations in the coming weeks. Indeed, they worry that Bush has built the perception of momentum—doing what they’ve long been since accomplished in a matter of weeks—further freezing the field out from potential rivals as they await his formal decision.

“Most of the other folks are a bit more current and therefore have staff infrastructure, donors, etc,” said one GOP strategist involved in another campaign. “Walker’s run three times in four years. Christie won twice and chaired the RGA last year. Kasich twice, Jindal twice since ’07. Cruz and Rand each once without serious general elections, but federal law has allowed them to have federal PAC ongoing. Rubio tough primary and general four years ago and ongoing PAC. I guess even Santorum and Huckabee have more recent campaigns. Only Pataki has a similar hiatus. I guess the difference is Jeb feels he will inherit some apparatus and donors.”

That’s not to say it will take him that long to replicate much of the effort, owing to his name recognition and deep pockets. “I’d say in about two weeks, he’ll have caught up,” quipped an aide to one likely GOP candidate.

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