ABILENE, Texas (AP) — Jeb Bush headed deep into the plains of West Texas on Tuesday, eager to campaign for his favored candidate for the office of state land commissioner. That would be his son, George P. Bush.
But amid the cattle auctions, smokehouse barbeque and fried pies, the voters the former Florida governor was trying to win over were already sold. They're eager to vote for a Bush, and not just for land commissioner. For president, too.
"Governor, who do you support for president?" supporter Blake Norvell shouted as Bush and his son posed for pictures at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene.
Bush smirked. "That's a trick question," he said as cameras flashed.
Norvell shot back: "But you're the only one who can win."
"Well, we'll see," Bush said.
Tuesday's campaign swing, a bus tour that started early in Fort Worth and headed toward the oil town of Midland, was designed to inject some of Jeb Bush's political celebrity into George P. Bush's campaign for an office with a sleepy title that's a stepping stone to bigger things in Texas politics.
That celebrity comes in no small part because so many Republicans are waiting on Jeb Bush to decide what he's going to do in 2016. His son, a 38-year-old attorney and officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve, is a part of that calculus: Bush has repeatedly said that he must determine whether a presidential campaign would be right for his family.
"I don't want to do anything that would make it harder for George to be successful in his pursuits, for sure," Bush said in an interview with The Associated Press on his son's campaign bus.
Bush said his mother, the former first lady who declared last year there had been "enough Bushes" in the White House, was now "neutral, trending in a different direction." His wife, Columba, is "supportive" of a potential presidential campaign, he said.
"But that doesn't mean that I don't understand the challenges that this brings," Bush said. "This is ultimately my decision with as much consideration as I can to take into account the people that I really love."
He quickly added that son George P. would be able to weather any complications a presidential campaign would bring, just as he himself did when staking out a career as Florida governor in a family where his father and brother have both held title to the Oval Office.
"My only request — he didn't seek my advice on whether he runs or not — is that I write the first check," Bush said. "Mission accomplished." And then some: It was for $50,000.
For his part, George P. Bush stayed on message as a candidate up for election in just a few weeks. He'd like to help his father run for president, he said, should Dad decide to do so, but "he knows that if I'm privileged to serve the state ... my focus has to be on this agency."
Unlike several other Republicans said to be considering runs for the White House, Jeb Bush has kept a relatively low profile for much of the year, sticking to paid speeches and private fundraisers. He has headlined more than two dozen fundraisers for Republican candidates and committees, including campaigns for governor in Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada. Those will be three of the first four states to hold early presidential primaries.
Now, in the final stretch of the midterm campaign, he is making a public push to boost candidates in some of the most heated Senate and gubernatorial races in the country.
Such help isn't all that necessary in the race for Texas land commissioner. George P. Bush is expected to cruise to an easy win in deeply conservative Texas. Still, that didn't dampen Dad's enthusiasm.
"I invited myself. I love him," Bush said of his son. "He doesn't need me; the guy is grinding it out. 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."
After listening to George P. Bush deliver a campaign speech at Hardin-Simmons about "the politics of aspiration" and what he characterized as an overbearing federal government, Jeb Bush beamed.
"You heard him speak. I taught him everything I know," Jeb Bush told the crowd. "And somehow he managed to do even better."
Bush urged the crowd in Abilene to vote for other Republicans, too, in November, saying, "If we can fix a few big things, this country will take off."
"Republicans could show that they could govern like grown-ups and begin to forge consensus," he said.
He did not, however, mention whether he would try to play a bigger role in the country's future, and it remains an issue he'd just as soon not talk about. When asked about the potential of a White House bid in his interview with the AP, Bush shot back: "You're about ready to get a 15-yard penalty and loss of down here."
But out in the crowd of Republicans in Abilene, potential voters who were all for his son, the question they had was still if they would be able to cast votes for the father.
"It's the question we all want the answer to," one woman said as she shuffled off once Bush left the room.
Follow Michael J. Mishak on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mjmishak and Will Weissert at https://twitter.com/apwillweissert