Unlike much of the potential 2016 Republican presidential field, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida is declining Rep. Steve King’s invitation to speak at his Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24.
A communications director for the conservative political advocacy group Citizens United, which is co-sponsoring the event, told NBC News that Bush will not attend the event in Des Moines “due to a scheduling conflict.”
The event will be the first major 2015 Republican gathering in the Hawkeye State, which kicks of the nomination process. Several other potential Republican candidates have already said they are attending. The list includes New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Bush’s decision to decline the summit is particularly notable because he has emerged as a leading Republican voice urging for comprehensive immigration reform. Meanwhile, King, considered a political powerbroker of sorts in the state, is known for his strident remarks against such reforms – generating a string of negative publicity in 2013 for saying immigrants coming across the U.S. border have “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. “
When asked by The Washington Post, King would not guess if Bush’s decision was political. “I want all of the possible candidates to come to Iowa and make their pitch,” the lawmaker said. “They should all come and speak to activists and interact with conservatives. I hope he finds a chance to do so.”
Bush, the 61-year-old son and brother of two former presidents, respectively, announced in December that he will “actively explore the possibility of running for president.” And seemingly in further preparation of a 2016 bid, Bush resigned from all of his board memberships, including his posts at education company Academic Partnerships, CorMatrix Cardiovascular Inc., and Empower Software Solutions. Bush had already said he would no longer serve on the Tenet Healthcare Corp. board and would end his advisory role with banking company Barclays.
Bush's spokesperson, Kristy Campbell, told the Associated Press that the decision is a “natural next step as he turns his focus to gauging whether there is support for a potential candidacy.”
According to Real Clear Politics’ average of polling data surrounding the still nascent 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Bush is in the lead with 17% support. He is followed by Christie with 11.2%, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin with 10%, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky with 8.6%. Huckabee, Carson and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are behind Paul, tied with 8% each.