WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press
ABILENE, Texas (AP) — He’s a former two-term governor of Florida and possible candidate for president in 2016, but at this moment, Jeb Bush is just a proud dad. And it’s all a bit overwhelming.
“Here I am with this incredible candidate,” Bush says, his voice cracking. He tries to continue, then stops to wipe tears from his eyes and clear his throat. His son, George P. Bush, candidate for Texas Land Commissioner, beams and pats him on the shoulder.
“I don’t know why it is that one generation of Bush after another has to run for office,” Jeb Bush, having recovered a little bit, finally said Tuesday afternoon while back on the campaign stump. “But apparently nothing’s changed.”
George P. Bush is expected to sail to victory next month and take over a little-known but powerful office that’s historically served as a stepping stone to a higher level of Texas politics. The 37-year-old Fort Worth attorney and investment manager didn’t really need to import his famous father for a campaign swing through West Texas.
But Dad was along for the ride all the same.
“He’s worked harder than any candidate probably running for office in Texas, so he could do it on his own, but he was kind enough to let the old guy show up,” Jeb Bush said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Should George P. Bush win, as expected, against former El Paso Mayor John Cook, he’d become the first member of the Bush family to prevail in his first election. His grandfather, George H.W. Bush, and his uncle, George W. Bush, both lost early campaigns before winning the White House, and his father won the Florida governorship on his second try. Even his great-grandfather, family patriarch and long-serving Connecticut Sen. Prescott Bush, lost his inaugural race.
Father and son began the day in Fort Worth and stopped in Abilene for an event at Hardin-Simmons University, where Jeb choked up. Things ended in Midland at a night campaign rally and concert. But the pair also found time to tour the home where Jeb lived until age 6. It was abutted by a park that would flood during infrequent rain storms — forming makeshift lakes where locals would waterski.
“I remember bullfrogs that would suddenly appear everywhere,” Jeb recalled. “And everyone out there skiing.”
The younger Bush has for months played down suggestions he aspires to anything more than land commissioner, which oversees the state’s vast public lands. It also administers Texas’ Permanent School Fund, which just overtook the educational endowment at Harvard University to become the country’s largest.
Still, George P. Bush sometimes sounds like he’s setting his sights higher.
“I like to think that my race is the most important. It’s not. It’s making sure that we stop the president’s agenda in Washington, D.C., and making sure that we take the U.S. Senate,” he said in Abilene, drawing cries of “Amen!” from the crowd. “I’m doing this to reach out to young people and to Hispanics, which are two groups that as Republicans, candidly, we need to do a better job of.”
Jeb’s wife and George P.’s mother hails from Guanajuato, Mexico, and both men speak fluent Spanish. Texas’ Hispanic population is booming, accounting for around two out of every three of the state’s new residents.
“Republicans, if we get the young and the Hispanic vote, we win,” said Tony Cummings, an 83-year-old cattle nutritionist consultant, who handed George P. Bush a campaign flier to autograph during the stop in Fort Worth.
Jeb Bush responded by playfully grabbing his son. “The CrossFit vote. Young people that don’t have any body fat,” he said. Then Jeb pointed back at himself and added, “That’s not me.”
The elder Bush was more serious hours later, telling the Abilene crowd, “This state is a spectacular state but it’s changing a lot, in many ways for the better, but you can’t ignore the changes.”
“You have to realize that there’s a lot of people moving in and a lot of people have different backgrounds than what used to be, and it’s important to constantly reach out,” Jeb Bush said, adding it was time for Washington to “fix our broken immigration system.”
If he decides to run for president in 2016, Bush could one day hope to lead such an overhaul. But the former governor was reluctant to say much about the White House while campaigning with his son.
George P. Bush also wasn’t ready to drop any solid hints, saying only, “I would like to see a conservative leader step forward in our party that can unite our party.”