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(CNN) —  

Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio welcomed fellow Floridian Jeb Bush to the ever-expanding presidential with kind words for the man he considers his political mentor.

“In politics, people throw around the word ‘friend’ so much it often has little real meaning. This is not one of those times,” Rubio said in a statement Monday morning, just a few hours before Bush was set to launch his campaign.

“When I call Jeb Bush my friend, I mean he is someone I like, care for and respect. He and I have worked closely together for many years, on issues big and small. He is a passionate advocate for what he believes, and I welcome him to the race,” Rubio said.

RELATED: Jeb Bush poised to launch 2016 bid

Bush kicked off the year as the big name in the prospective field of Republican candidates, but many others have pulled even with him in early polling, including Rubio, who many see competing for the same base of wealthy Florida donors.

Bush and Rubio worked closely together a decade ago, when Rubio was the young speaker of the Florida House of Representatives and Bush was a second-term governor.

Bush is set to announce his candidacy at 3 p.m. Monday, following a five-day trip through Europe that played up his foreign policy credentials. Rubio has taken to playing up his youth in the field (he’s 44 years old) as one of his key strengths, taking shots at Hillary Clinton that also remind voters of the relative age of his Republican competitors.

Both men picked Miami to launch their campaigns.