2012 Republicans Court Bushes as Conservatives Nudge Jeb Bush to Join Race

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None of the 2012 Republican presidential candidates has earned the blessing of the Bush dynasty, with nine months until the Iowa caucuses.

But several early contenders have been striving for approval from the family that has produced the two most recent Republican presidents and wields continued influence among conservative voters and donors.

Jon Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to China turned potential presidential hopeful, makes a pilgrimage to the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, today to meet with former President George H.W. Bush, his former boss.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who made his presidential campaign official today, met with Bush in Texas a few weeks ago.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels had seemed to capture the most attention of the Bush clan, receiving encouragement former first lady Laura Bush and other former Bush administration advisers to make the run for office. On Sunday, he declined.

Now, many Bush family loyalists are looking for an alternative to Daniels, and some say former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of former presidents, should be their guy.

Bush is seen as a conservative heavyweight with executive experience and strong appeal in a key swing state for 2012. He also has name recognition and credibility among Republicans nationwide.

"Jeb probably has a better chance to unite the establishment and Tea Party wings of the GOP than anyone else, certainly a better chance than Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney," National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote earlier this year.

In a poll of likely Florida voters last month, Bush held a nearly 20 point lead over President Obama in a hypothetical 2012 presidential matchup.

Still, Bush has repeatedly insisted he will not run in 2012 and believes the party has plenty of candidates who could defeat Obama.

"While I am flattered by everyone's encouragement, my decision has not changed," Bush, 58, said in a statement Sunday. "I will not be a candidate for president in 2012."

"I remember in '92 at this time, my dad had an 80 percent approval rating," Bush said at a fundraiser earlier this month, according to the Dallas Morning News. "There were the seven dwarfs. And one of the dwarfs went on to be president. You just don't know until you get a little closer."

Bush's decision may rest in part on recent national polls that show him struggling to shake low favorability ratings, likely tied to his association to his brother, former President George W. Bush, who left office highly unpopular.

A Gallup poll last month found 44 percent of Americans have an unfavorable impression of Jeb Bush, with only 35 percent holding a favorable view. In February, a national Fox News poll on possible Republican match-ups with Obama, Bush trailed the president by 20 points.

But Bush himself has suggested that no decision is final. "You never say never about anything," he told CNN when asked late last year about a presidential run.