Jeb Bush

From the Herald archives: For Bush, enthusiasm wasn’t enough

BUSH CONCEDES: “I am proud to have advocated ideas that will change the relationship we have with government.”
BUSH CONCEDES: “I am proud to have advocated ideas that will change the relationship we have with government.” MIAMI HERALD FILE

More than 16 months ago, Miami developer Jeb Bush quit his job, sold his business interest and sacrificed time with his family to pursue a longtime dream that burned even more intensely after the defeat of his father, President George Bush, in 1992. The dream came to an end Tuesday night.

So where does Jeb Bush go now?

Minutes after conceding, Bush had changed from his suit into slacks and a T-shirt. He reflected for a minute about his future, and said: “I don’t know, but I don’t like losing. I don’t know what I’m going to do. But I know one thing, I’m going to rest for a little while.”

Bush’s campaign gave a crafty career politician the scare of his life, but in the end not enough voters bought into Bush’s message of fiscal conservatism, education reform and massive prison buildup.

“We set a new agenda,” Bush told a crowd of hundreds at Miami’s Crowne Plaza Hotel after conceding to Gov. Lawton Chiles.

Though he had never run before, Bush was able to generate tremendous enthusiasm among his followers. And by plugging into his father’s campaign machine, he was able to run one of the most organized campaigns in the history of Florida. More than 40,000 people volunteered. Campaign aides were confident they identified every likely Jeb Bush voter in the state, and nearly all would get a call on Election Day. Seven million pieces of mail were sent in the final days before the election.

There were mistakes along the way. Bush lost some women and blacks with statements they considered offensive. Earlier this year, when a woman at a forum asked him what he would do for blacks, he answered in part, “probably nothing.” Bush also was criticized for picking Tom Feeney, an ultra-conservative state representative from Orlando, as his running mate, and for using the bereaved mother of a murdered young girl in a campaign commercial accusing Chiles of being soft on the death penalty.

Before a debate with Chiles a week before the election, a crowd of 60 people shouted at bush, his wife, Columba, and young son Jebbie, as they entered the auditorium chanting: “Jeb Bush go away. Racist, sexist, anti-gay.” Clearly, the characterization pained him. Bush is married to a Mexican-American woman and he and his family have felt the pain of racism.

Bush was convinced that there was a higher level of enthusiasm among his supporters than among Chiles’. And he believed the massive crowds that showed up everywhere he spoke, waving signs, and begging for his autograph would translate into victory at the polls.

But at the end of the campaign, it was clear that politics had taken its toll on the family. Win or lose, the campaign trail would not be something Columba Bush said she’d miss.

“It’ll be fun to go back to a normal life,” she said Tuesday night.