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Jeb Bush snags top Mitt Romney Iowa strategist David Kochel

Jeb Bush is hiring one of Mitt Romney's top 2008 and 2012 strategists, a signal of the fierce competition for staff and donors between the two GOP heavyweights.
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney talks with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as they fly on his campaign plane to Miami Fla., Oct. 31, 2012. (Photo by Charles Dharapak/AP)
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney talks with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as they fly on his campaign plane to Miami Fla., Oct. 31, 2012.Miami...

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is bringing on David Kochel, the architect of Mitt Romney's 2008 and 2012 Iowa campaigns, as a senior strategist ahead of a possible 2016 campaign, msnbc has confirmed. 

"If Governor Bush were to move forward with a potential campaign, Dave is in line to play a senior role in a potential campaign," Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said in a statement. She added Kochel was "one of the most respected political strategists in the country and his expertise and leadership will be critical to helping Governor Bush outline his vision for expanding opportunity for all Americans in the coming months."

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Kochel's decision is a blow to Romney's potential third campaign for the White House. Kochel had been a close adviser during both of Romney's presidential runs, overseeing a narrow, unexpected and eventually overturned caucus-night victory in Iowa for the former Massachusetts governor in 2012. And Kochel was in attendance during Romney's recent speech in San Diego, California, along with several other past Romney hands.

Still, Kochel has also worked with Sally Bradshaw and Mike Murphy, Bush's top strategists, on previous campaigns.

"I think the world of Dave and it's a very smart move by Jeb," Stuart Stevens, a longtime Romney adviser, told msnbc. "I think he'll do a tremendous job." 

The hire, first reported by The New York Times and Des Moines Register, is the clearest sign yet of the steep competition Romney faces for staff, donors and endorsements in the crowded 2016 Republican field. No longer the clear-cut establishment favorite he was at this point in 2012, Romney will have to battle emerging candidates like Bush, New Jersey Gov.  Chris Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and others to reconstitute past supporters and grab new talent. Many of Romney's 2012 fundraisers have said they are undecided in the race as well, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity. 

Kochel's presence in Bush's inner circle also suggests that the former governor intends to compete hard in Iowa, a state some Republicans have urged him to avoid due to the state GOP's conservative bent on issues like immigration and education. Bush has been a prominent advocate for comprehensive immigration reform and Common Core standards, positions that put him at odds with many right-leaning activists.  

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In addition to making his name as a top Romney aide over the last two presidential cycles, Kochel raised his stock last year as a top adviser to freshman Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst in her race against Democrat Bruce Braley. Ernst emerged from a tough Republican primary to become one of the breakout stars of the midterm elections and delivered the official Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address earlier this month. Ernst endorsed Romney in 2008 and 2012 and earned Romney's endorsement early in her campaign. She will likely be one of the most sought after endorsements in the state ahead of Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucus.