Mutual friends predict Bush and Rubio won't find themselves facing off in the Republican primaries. "Being a friend of both, I cannot see a scenario where they both would run," says Ana Navarro, a GOP strategist who worked on immigration policy for Bush in the statehouse. "The friendship and mutual respect between them is real, and there's just so much overlap in friends, in supporters."
Bush says he isn't driven by presidential fever, by a burning desire to claim the top job in politics. "There's a lot of obsession about people's personal ambitions," he says. "I think my motivation really relates to broader issues. I want my voice to have purpose. If I can help create an environment where the principles that I believe in can be implemented -- to me, that's fulfilling."
"Jeb is the grown-up in the room," says Sally Bradshaw, a veteran in Florida Republican politics who served as Bush's chief of staff as governor. "He has a perspective and an ability to sell big ideas."
On this day, he is in the Texas state Capitol on behalf of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a group he formed four years ago to encourage other states to adopt the education policies he implemented in Florida. As he waits in a hallway, Gov. Rick Perry (yet another potential 2016 contender) emerges from an elevator. "How you doing?" Bush asks. "Best you ever saw," Perry booms.
Perry extolls what he tells Bush is the most conservative Texas Legislature in nearly three decades. "Twenty senators over here with an 'R' by their name," he brags. Nineteen, an aide murmurs. "Nineteen? Should be 20," the governor says, undeterred.
"In the education reform world, the more conservative you are doesn't mean you'll be on the side of change," Bush demurs, calling it an issue that crosses party lines. He meets with the governor, sits down with some state legislators, then addresses the Senate education committee. Bush has brought a PowerPoint presentation about Florida education policies with him.
As he heads out of the Capitol, Bush spots the official portrait of his older brother, George W. Bush, twice elected governor before he became president. "There he is," Bush declares, pausing momentarily as he makes an exaggerated ta-da gesture oddly reminiscent of his brother.
A passer-by shouts, "How's your dad?" Former president George H.W. Bush was released from a Houston hospital in January after being treated for more than a month for bronchitis. "Better," he replies, heading downstairs and out the door.
Later, Bush says his father has become "frail" at age 88. "He's an old guy, is the best way to describe him," he says. "But he's in relatively good health."
That father-son talk
At 6'4", Jeb Bush is taller than his brother and father. He is big and blunt. If George W. bears an eerie resemblance to their father, Jeb is a bit more inclined to favor their mother. He is more reserved and more cerebral than his brother, but they share the same vocal inflections and competitive instincts. Both first ran for governor in 1994, when George W. won in Texas and Jeb lost in Florida, only to run again successfully four years later.
Every winning national Republican ticket in more than three decades has had a Bush on it, running as president or vice president. If Jeb were also to win the White House, the Bushes would be the first family ever to count three presidents among their ranks. What's more, Jeb's son George P. Bush, 36, is planning to run for statewide office in Texas next year, probably for land commissioner. His other son, Jeb Jr., 29, is weighing a campaign in Florida.
"He has been encouraged to consider running for Congress," Jeb Bush says. But his son feels "some trepidation" about having a father-son talk about it, he says. "I think he knows what I'll tell him. I'll tell him what my dad told me, which was: What happens if you win?"
In national politics, the Bush name looms as both blessing and curse for Jeb Bush. The family's political credentials and connections give him ready access to a significant fundraising network. But for some skeptical conservatives, he is also shadowed by his father's decision to break his no-new-taxes pledge and his brother's expansion of the federal government and the budget deficit.
"If Jeb Bush runs, he's not going to be the conservative candidate in the primaries," says Terry Jeffrey, a conservative columnist and editor of the CNSNews.com, likening Bush to Romney in 2012. "He's going to be the establishment candidate, and his viability will depend on how many conservatives are splitting the vote in the early caucuses and primaries."
For some Democrats, the Bush name revives memories of the disputed 2000 election that put George W. Bush in the White House and of the divisive war in Iraq.
In a Quinnipiac University survey released last month, close to half of registered voters said they didn't know enough about Jeb Bush to have an opinion, but partisans on both sides were more likely to have definite views.
Republicans by 46%-7% had a favorable impression of Jeb Bush. Democrats by 50%-11% had an unfavorable one.
Alienating 'natural allies'
Last year, Bush was in Phoenix to speak at a fundraiser on behalf of Save Our Secret Ballot, an advocacy group that encourages states to pass constitutional amendments that require a secret ballot when workers vote on whether to be represented by a union. "In the very first question, Jeb was asked how we could stop the hordes of people pouring over our southern border and committing crimes and going on welfare, and his response was to rephrase the question," Bolick recalls. "He said, 'How can the Republican Party avoid committing suicide by continuing to alienate people who ought to be our natural allies?'"
Bolick, a prominent conservative lawyer affiliated with the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, approached Bush after the speech and proposed that they write a book together outlining an immigration overhaul.
Bush dedicated the book to his granddaughter, Georgia, as the epitome of America's immigrant heritage. The toddler's father, Jeb Jr., has an American father and Mexican-born mother, Columba. Georgia's mother, Sandra, is a Canadian citizen of Iraqi descent.
"She's an Iraqi-Canadian-Mexican-Texan-American," Bush says of his granddaughter. "She's a quadra-hyphenated American. And 20 years from now, when she fills out the Census form, and asked what her ethnicity is, she'll say, 'Not applicable.'" He pulls out his smartphone to show off a photograph of the little girl, grinning.
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