By PAUL J. WEBER and WILL WEISSERT
AUSTIN, Texas - George P. Bush, a rising star among Hispanic conservatives and the grandson of one president and nephew of another, has taken the first step toward seeking elected office in Texas.
But it's unclear what his next step will be.
The 36-year-old attorney from Fort Worth has filed a two-page candidate reporting declaration with the Texas Ethics Commission but didn't list which office he plans to seek. Bush did not return messages at his consulting firm Friday, and his campaign treasurer was traveling in Oklahoma and unavailable for comment.
Still, word of yet another Bush coming to Texas ballots was cheered by Republicans across the state, where party leaders are well aware that they will need Hispanic voters if they want to continue dominating politics here over the next two decades the way did during the last two.
"It's a positive thing to have something besides old white guys like me on the ballot," said Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.
A Democrat has not won statewide office in Texas since 1994, but Hispanics accounted for two-thirds of Texas' population growth over the last decade and now make up 35 percent of its population. Mitt Romney's failure to connect with Latinos is being cited as a reason for his defeat by President Barack Obama, who carried 71 percent of the Hispanic vote nationwide.
"I think George P. Bush is the future of the party," said George Antuna, who co-founded the Hispanic Republicans of Texas with Bush. "Whichever office he decides to seek, we will support him 110 percent."
Bush is the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his wife, Columba, who was born in Mexico. His uncle is George W. Bush and his grandfather is George H.W. Bush.
George P. Bush speaks Spanish and has been active in politics for years. In August, he was promoted to deputy finance chairman of the Texas Republican Party.
The filing answers at least one question: Texas or Florida?
Bush grew up in the Sunshine State but met his wife Amanda while attending law school at the University of Texas. He later became a partner in a real estate investment company and has since started Fort Worth-based St. Augustine Partners, a business consulting firm.
As recently as September, Bush said he was being recruited to run for statewide office by Texas GOP brass. That same month, however, he launched a four-day bus tour of Florida to drum up support for the Republican Party among college students there.
"I know he has a passion for Texas. Texas is where his granddad lives, where his uncle lives and a lot of other family members," Antuna said. "He's always been a Texan. It just took him a little while to get here."
Democratic state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer noted that the Texas Republican Party platform supports English-only laws and opposes extending legal status to immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. He also said the party wants to do away with pre-kindergarten classes and the federal health care law, even though 65 percent of pre-kindergarten students statewide are Latinos and the health care overhaul would extend coverage to 3.3 million uninsured Hispanic Texans.
"Either George P. Bush is going to change the Republican Party of Texas or the Republican Party of Texas is going to change George P. Bush," said Martinez Fischer, who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. "When you consider the extreme views and leaders of the party today, I'm going to put my money on them."
Bush's paperwork was filed at a time of great uncertainty among top Texas Republicans.
Rick Perry succeeded Bush's uncle as Texas governor in 2000 and has now held the job longer than anyone in history. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has been in his post for a decade. Both are eying re-election runs in 2014.
That's sparked a logjam among GOP statewide officeholders, many of whom are anxious to move up - and that was before Bush entered the fray.
Attorney General Greg Abbott has raised $14 million, presumably to run for governor. Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples have already said they will challenge Dewhurst, while Comptroller Susan Combs and state Sen. Dan Patrick are also expected to run for lieutenant governor.
As a newcomer, Bush will likely wait to see how the field settles before he announces what office he'll pursue.
If Perry decides not to seek another term as governor in 2014 - a possibility since he may want to run for president two years later - then Bush will likely want to run for attorney general. But if Abbott stays put, Bush is expected to run for land commissioner while Patterson campaigns for lieutenant governor.
Adding to the intrigue is the fact that Perry and the Bush family don't get along very well. Perry served as George W. Bush's lieutenant governor and once unsuccessfully sought a judicial appointment for his brother-in-law, whom Bush shunned.
Both sides claim the feud has long since cooled, but the Bush family made no secret of its support for Romney, even when Perry briefly challenged him for the Republican presidential nomination. And Jeb Bush has been mentioned as a possible presidential hopeful for 2016, which could pit him against Perry.
Patterson said he believes either attorney general or land commissioner is George P. Bush's likeliest potential destination. The land commissioner administers state-owned lands and mineral resources.
"He comes from pretty decent lineage of folks who've been successful in politics," Patterson said.
Meanwhile, all officeholders will keep an eye on Bush to see if he tries to follow in Ted Cruz's footsteps.
Instead of working his way up the Texas GOP ladder, Cruz ran for the U.S. Senate in his first election. He stunned Dewhurst in the Republican primary before being elected Tuesday as successor to retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.