Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, fresh off making his presidential campaign official, will likely waste no time putting in face time with voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. But Texas, the state central to his family’s political DNA, will never be too far removed from his White House ambitions.
As he wades into the 2016 race, Bush has perhaps the deepest ties to Texas besides the two hopefuls who currently call it home: former Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Bush is helped by famous family spread throughout the Lone Star State, a biography in which Texas has a starring role, fundraising efforts targeted at the state’s deep-pocketed donors and an appeal to Texas’ growing Hispanic population. Plus, his campaign is working with one of the most respected pollsters in the state.
“When it comes to ‘proving his Texas,’ other candidates have a lot of boot left to fill when it comes to beating Jeb Bush on the claim,” said Joe Brettell, a GOP strategist based in Houston.
Bush will get a chance to show off some of those connections next week, when he plans to drop in on Texas for a fundraising swing. He is scheduled to hold events June 25 in Dallas and Houston, two cities that only begin to tell the story of Bush’s Texas ties.
Here are five ways the state matters in his campaign:
It’s All in the Family
Texas is arguably the state most associated with the Bush dynasty. Former President George H.W. Bush, Jeb Bush’s father, lives in Houston. George W., Jeb Bush’s brother and another past occupant of the White House, resides in Dallas. And George P. Bush, Jeb Bush’s son, is based in Austin as the state land commissioner.
The extent to which Jeb Bush’s immediate family will be involved in his campaign remains to be seen. But they have already stepped up, primarily pitching in on the fundraising front. George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush have headlined fundraisers for Jeb Bush’s super PAC in Houston and Dallas, respectively. George P. Bush, meanwhile, has joined his brother Jeb Jr. — “Jebbie,” as he’s known — to help raise money for the super PAC from a young crowd in Texas.
George P. Bush is set to hit the campaign trail for his dad Wednesday in Nevada, where he will hold meet-and-greets in Reno, then Las Vegas. Introducing his father Monday in Miami, George P. Bush offered a preview of the kind of surrogate he could be.
“Others can speak to my father’s record as governor or perhaps about his plans for the presidency,” Bush said. “But I can speak to the character, to the judgment, to the temperament of the man I am blessed to call Dad.”
“From Texas to Miami by Way of Mexico”
Bush was born in Midland and raised in Houston, but it was Austin where he would probably argue his life changed forever. It was there he attended the University of Texas to be closer to the woman he had fallen in love with while visiting Mexico in high school. And it was in Austin he eventually married Columba Garnica de Gallo, who he said Monday gives him the “quiet joy of a man who can say that the most wonderful friend he has in the world is his own wife.”
After their wedding, Columba and Jeb Bush moved to Houston, where he had taken an entry-level job with Texas Commerce Bank. They did not stay long, though, relocating to Venezuela so he could work for a bank branch there. When they later returned to the United States, it was to Florida, where Bush has since been based.
Making his campaign official Monday in Miami, Bush alluded to a life story made possible by open-minded parents — and the Lone Star State’s role in it.
“Long before the world knew my parents’ names, I knew I was blessed to be their son,” Bush said. “And they didn’t mind at all that I found my own path. It led from Texas to Miami by way of Mexico.”
Where the Money Is
Bush enters the race seen as a fundraising juggernaut, a reputation that no doubt extends to donor-rich Texas. His fundraising operation has been working here for months, and when it reveals its first haul — rumored to be more than $100 million — expect it to be fueled by a lot of influential Texans, particularly those from the old-guard establishment.
Bush’s team has assembled a so-called Texas Leadership Committee made up of dozens of the state’s most generous GOP donors. Among the fundraising heavyweights are billionaire oilmen Javaid Anwar, Ray Hunt and Trevor Rees-Jones.
All signs point to Bush being one of the front-runners in the Lone Star State money race, if not leading it. Back in March, Jenifer Sarver, an Austin-based communications consultant who worked in George W. Bush’s presidential administration, predicted Bush’s deep ties to the state could give him a leg up on fundraising — even against the two current Texans in the GOP race, Perry and Cruz.
“I think that Jeb starts with an outsized advantage,” she said, “and I think that people are going to back a horse sooner than they would like because of the competition.”
The Houston Numbers Guy
Like many other 2016 campaigns, Bush’s has tapped talent from Texas, perhaps most prominently David Hill, a Houston-based pollster who has done work for more than 100 winning ballot measures across the country. He has also polled for a number of Republican candidates over the years, including Bush.
Bush’s campaign is based in Miami, where campaign manager Danny Diaz, chief strategist David Kochel and longtime confidante Sally Bradshaw are calling the shots. Thousands of miles away in California, veteran GOP operative Mike Murphy is running the super PAC backing Bush.
Until recently, the coastal split had a Texas connection: The team was reportedly rendezvousing at the Hyatt hotel inside Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. But with the need for the super PAC to distance itself from the campaign now that Bush is a candidate — and the painful memories associated with the airport, according to The Washington Post — that looks like an arrangement whose time has passed.
A fluent Spanish speaker and the husband of a Mexican-American woman, Bush could have more appeal to Texas’ growing Hispanic population than any other Republican candidate. A Texas Tribune/University of Texas poll released in February put him in third place for the GOP nomination among Hispanic primary voters.
“His own background can talk by itself,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Brownsville.
Bush’s immigration views could be a mixed bag in Texas. Seen as too moderate by the base of the GOP, they could hold him back during the primary. But in a general election, they could have serious crossover appeal.
Bush recently drew long and loud applause at a gathering of Hispanic evangelicals in Houston when he made clear he was not backing away from his support for a pathway to legal status for people in the country illegally.
“We’re a nation of immigrants,” Bush said. “This is not the time to abandon something that makes us special and unique.”