In a move designed to finally master a troublesome state and secure his nomination for Republican candidate in the next elections, Jeb Bush is planning to transform Florida into a bastion of support in time for his 2016 presidential bid. According to The New York Times, the former governor of Florida is determined to win over the state — which has voted for the Democratic candidate and current president Barack Obama in the last two elections. The operation intended to make this happen has been code-named (somewhat pompously) “Homeland Security.”
“Homeland Security” is a two-pronged beast — potentially worth a cool $50 million — that is designed to defuse the two key threats to Bush’s triumph, according to the Times: namely, probable competition from fresh-faced Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, and the increase in Democrat-leaning, primarily Hispanic, factions of Florida voters that could sink the 2016 Republican nominee. The state, which native-Texan Bush governed from 1999 to 2007, will be crucial in ensuring Bush’s success, according to Bob Martinez, Bush’s friend and forerunner in the governorship. “Without Florida,” he told the Times, “he knows it would be hard to make the numbers work.”
Bush’s strategy will rely heavily on his connections in the state, and on a barrage of personal missives and lucrative contracts extended to Florida’s pre-eminent “political operatives.” The news of his costly bid for Florida’s vote comes at a time when his popularity there has suffered fresh setbacks; education reforms he implemented in Florida in 1999 have recently met with harsh criticism. Bush considers his stellar record on school testing and accountability essential to his presidential bid, according to The Wall Street Journal, but popular opposition to the standards he put in place as governor has apparently increased.
Bush’s support for Common Core education standards is also presumed to do him no favors with conservative voters, a fact that might become problematic come Florida’s primary on March 15, 2016. In fact, having referred to himself as a “head-banging conservative,” Bush is considered something of a “moderate” in the presidential field given the Republican Party’s shift to the right.
The Bush family, and this particular Bush, have had a bumpy ride when it comes to their relationship with the southeastern state. Jeb’s father, President George H. W. Bush, almost lost the state to Bill Clinton in 1992. George W. Bush, Jeb’s brother, endured an agonizing vote recount (the first in the state’s history) in Florida in 2000, and then a Supreme Court battle over the results. George W. eventually won the state, and thus the election, but independent analysis reported in The Washington Post suggested the tally was too close to call.
Jeb Bush presided over that election in Florida, and was accused of a “gross dereliction of duty” by the U.S. civil rights commission for ignoring electoral problems. The Guardian reported at the time that the commission’s report found that black voters were “10 times more likely than white voters to have their ballots rejected.” The report accused the state of effectively “purging” the voting rolls to exclude certain citizens. “Despite the closeness of the election, it was widespread voter disenfranchisement and not the dead-heat contest that was the extraordinary feature in the Florida election,” the report stated.
This smudge on his record might have little effect on Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential bid, but Florida’s changing demographics will. Bush speaks Spanish and has a Mexican-born wife, but this might not be enough to win over the burgeoning population of Cuban- and Puerto Rican-Americans in the state. The other major issue he will face is the attractive candidacy of young Rubio (or even that of Ben Carson or Mike Huckabee).
But the New York Times report indicates that, so far at least, Bush has the ear of Florida’s Republican establishment. “The political leadership of Florida is going to be with Jeb Bush,” State Senator Jack Latvala told the publication. Now he just has to convince everyone else to vote for him.
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