Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
/ Source: NBC News

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday he would never “disparage” his former protege, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and vowed not to attack any of his potential GOP opponents in the presidential primary.

Bush said "a lot of great people are running" and added that "tearing down other people won't help at all," Bush told the audience at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting in Columbus.

It was Bush’s first public appearance since Rubio entered the race. The two Florida Republicans were close, though they likely will soon be pitted against each other in a presidential campaign.

“I am his friend and he’s mine, and I’m never going to disparage him,” Bush told reporters.

A theme throughout Rubio's presidential announcement speech Monday focused on a new generation, an apparent knock on older challengers who have close ties to the presidency, including Bush, who is a generation older than Rubio and whose brother and father were president.

During his remarks Bush also declined to say much about potential Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, who made her first campaign stop in Iowa hours before he spoke.

“All the other candidates and all the process, I’m really not the right person to talk to about that. I don't follow it, to be honest with you,” he said.

Bush has come under fire from conservatives for various issues, including his positions on immigration and Common Core education standards. On both issues, Bush avoided the sticky parts that irk conservatives. On immigration, he didn't discuss what he would do with 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., and in response to a question on education, he didn't mention Common Core standards but said the federal government should play a minimal role in education.

- Leigh Ann Caldwell and Andrew Rafferty