He'd been in talks with Jeb Bush's would-be campaign for several weeks, but it wasn't until Jose Mallea was featured as a panelist Monday in Bush's political-donor retreat on Miami Beach that he was outed as a Jeb Guy.
Soon, he will become part of the payroll: Bush's political action committee, Right to Rise, plans to hire Mallea to advise the former Florida governor's likely 2016 presidential campaign on Hispanic outreach and engagement.
Mallea's first paid job in politics was on Bush's 1998 gubernatorial campaign, and worked for President George W. Bush from 2001-05. But he has known Marco Rubio since 2006 and ran Rubio's successful 2010 U.S. Senate campaign -- so which Republican presidential contender would he pick?
"The decision in terms of who's going to be a better president and who's ready to be president -- that wasn't hard," Mallea told the Miami Herald on Friday in his first public comments about his new gig, which was first reported by Politico. "It was a no-brainer for me."
"It's tough on a personal level," he added. "I'm incredibly proud of what Marco has accomplished."
Mallea said he let Rubio know, through mutual friends, about his Bush post, which is not yet official. Friday marked Mallea's last day as national strategic director for the Libre Initiative, a Hispanic political outreach group connected to the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers. He also co-owns Biscayne Bay Brewing Co. in Doral.
Mallea said he was persuaded to join Bush full-time in part after speaking at length to Jeb Bush Jr., who has been traveling the country asking young Republicans to raise money for his dad.
"Jeb doesn't need to be told how to reach out to Hispanics," Mallea said.
Bush, whose wife is Mexican American, speaks Spanish and has lived for 30 years in culturally Hispanic Miami. As adviser, Mallea's job will be to help Bush execute a strategy to bring more Latino voters to the GOP. Bush has already more forcefully embraced immigration reform in his stump speech than have other Republicans in the crowded field, including Rubio.
In his time at the Libre Initiative, Mallea helped Republicans get elected in two key congressional districts, including Carlos Curbelo in Florida's 26th. Curbelo is expected to back Bush once he formalizes his candidacy. Miami's two other Cuban-American Republican House members, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have already endorsed him.