[P]owerful Christian conservatives are operating what amounts to a stealth campaign on Bush's behalf. Some are old allies from the Florida days; others are holdovers from George W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns. Some are both, including Ralph Reed, president of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a longtime friend of Jeb's who served as Southeast regional chairman of George W.'s 2004 reelection effort (and thus practically lived in Florida). Multiple GOP sources say that Reed has been urging Jeb Bush for several years to make a 2016 run and spoke with him recently to game out the campaign. Like many of the organizations that Bush's supporters lead, Reed's coalition demands impartiality from its leaders, so Reed can't openly back his man—unless, as some suspect will happen, Reed ultimately decides to join the campaign officially. (Reed declined to comment for this story.)
While the candidate isn't hitting the hustings to woo rank-and-file Christian voters, he's been busy surreptitiously building a formidable coalition of socially conservative luminaries. Last summer, Bush flew to Colorado for a private luncheon with the brass of Focus on the Family. Several of America's best-connected evangelicals broke bread with Bush, including Jim Daly, Focus's president, whose radio program reaches a large, loyal audience, and Tim Goeglein, who was the faith liaison in George W. Bush's White House. People familiar with the meeting—and unaffiliated with Bush—say the former governor made a striking impression, one that echoed through the uppermost echelons of the evangelical world. (Neither Daly nor Goeglein would comment.)
In this endeavor, his old friend Jim Towey will be a key asset. When Bush first ran for governor in 1994, Towey was on the other side, serving as Gov. Chiles's director of Florida's Health and Human Services agency. The loss that sparked Bush's conversion led to an after-election lunch with Towey, a relative stranger but also a high-profile Catholic whose brain Bush was eager to pick. The two quickly became the closest of friends, and that friendship, in turn, led to Towey's appointment as the second director of George W. Bush's faith-based initiatives. Towey is now president of Miami's Ave Maria University, one of the nation's foremost incubators of conservative Catholic doctrine, while serving unofficially as Bush's point man for religious outreach.