TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday took his most definitive step yet toward running for president, announcing plans to "actively explore" a campaign and form a new political operation allowing him to raise money for like-minded Republicans.

 

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

In a holiday message posted on Bush's Facebook page and Twitter account, the son and brother of past Republican presidents said he discussed the "future of our nation" and a potential bid for the White House with members of his family over the Thanksgiving holiday.

"As a result of these conversations and thoughtful consideration of the kind of strong leadership I think America needs, I have decided to actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States," Bush wrote.

He added, "In the coming months, I hope to visit with many of you and have a conversation about restoring the promise of America."

Kristy Campbell, a spokeswoman for Bush, said he has not yet made a final decision on whether to seek the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 2016. She said that he will announce his decision next year "after gauging support" for a run.

"This is a natural next step and represents a new phase of his consideration process," Campbell said.

That phase will include an expansion of Bush's political operations. He said Tuesday he will start his own leadership political action committee in January, which will allow him to raise money and use it to support candidates in other races.

In his statement, Bush said the committee "will help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation. The PAC's purpose will be to support leaders, ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans."

Bush's announcement is sure to reverberate throughout Republican politics and begin to help sort out a field that includes more than a dozen potential candidates, none of whom have formally announced plans to mount a campaign.

Should he ultimately decide to run, Bush can tap into his family's vast political network and his campaign would attract strong support from the same donor pool that other establishment-minded Republicans - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie among them - need to fuel their own prospective campaigns.

"I take Jeb at his word, which is he hasn't made a decision about what he wants to do, and that it's an intensely personal decision," Christie said of a  "I agree with that...He said he has to determine whether he has the fire in his belly to do this."

On the May edition of Ask the Governor, Eric Scott asked Christie if it would be fun or stressful if Bush and he both ran, given his closeness to the family.

"It'd be stressful because I consider Jeb a friend," Christie explained. "And he's been a wonderful friend to me, especially during Sandy and the aftermath...You like to run against people that you don't like, not run against people that you do like and respect."

A Bush candidacy also has the potential to affect the plans of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who came up through Florida politics as a strong Bush supporter and is considering whether to seek re-election to the Senate or run for president in 2016.

Tuesday's statement is the latest and most definitive signal that Bush plans to try and become the third member of his family to serve as president. In a TV interview this past weekend, he said he "would be a good president," disclosed that he was writing an e-book about his time as governor that would come out in the spring, and promised to release about 250,000 emails from his time in office.

During his two terms as Florida governor, Bush pushed for large tax cuts, overhauled Florida's education system and led the charge to eliminate race-based policies in college admissions and state spending.

Since leaving office, Bush has continued to advocate for more changes to the nation's schools, including the adoption of new education standards known as Common Core. Those standards have drawn the ire of conservatives who view them as a federal intrusion into local classrooms, but Bush has continued to call them critical to overhauling the country's education system, while seeking common ground with opponents by saying states should be allowed to develop their own education programs.

Matthew White contributed to this report.

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