Iowa and New Hampshire voters will listen before they judge Bush

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 18, 2014 1:02 AM

By Mark Guarino

DAVENPORT, Iowa (Reuters) - Bob Shelley neatly folds his newspaper and uses it as a coaster for his coffee mug. By no coincidence, it covers the face of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who just announced he will explore a bid for the White House in 2016.

In a coffee shop in this riverfront city, Shelley, 63, and a life-long Republican, says he is not certain which Republican presidential candidate he’ll vote for in 2016 But he knows Bush is not his man.

"Why? We’ve just had enough of those people," he says with a laugh, referring to the Bush dynasty that has yielded two Republican presidents and two state governors.

But when asked on the street, many Republicans in this key state are far less certain. In Iowa, which holds the first presidential nominating contest in early 2016, voters are used to hearing out candidates before judging them, they say.

That's true even for a 61-year-old former two-term governor who carries one of the best-known political names in recent American political history.

"This is a place that takes their vote very, very seriously," says Bruce Calhoun, 44, a realtor.

"It’s going to take all those folks to make their way here as often as they can — and not just one of these quickie stops," he said of the presidential contenders.

Carol Crain, a volunteer at the Scott County Republican headquarters in downtown Davenport, says Republicans "are hopping around right now" in their take of Bush. This much is clear: he will need a slew of visits to make his case.

"People want to know him. They may disagree with him on one or two issues but they may like him for 50 other things," Cain said. "People have to get to know Jeb and see how he differs, or if he’s the same as his brother."

The same holds true in New Hampshire, the other traditional early voting state. Tom Rath, a veteran state Republican strategist, said Bush's team knows he will have to woo support there one voter at a time like every other candidate.

"They certainly know how New Hampshire works and know the requirements of his physical presence," he said in a telephone interview.

Bush, who announced his exploratory candidacy on Tuesday, currently ranks near the top of what is expected to be a crowded Republican presidential field in most national and state polls. But pollsters say much of that is name recognition.

"That also means he's more polarizing because a lot of people know the Bush name, but a lot of people don't like the Bush name," said Andrew Smith, a pollster at the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

Lisa Standhill, a 38-year-old Democrat, said a Bush candidacy would galvanize members of her party who have not forgiven former President George W. Bush, Jeb’s brother, for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Jeb will cause big waves. Anyone who was against the war, Democrat or Republican, will not want him near the White House. It brings up all those years people want to forget," she said while loading groceries outside a Walmart.

Some Iowa conservatives say what they know about Jeb Bush is encouraging. Outside Legacy Baptist Church, a church volunteer who would only give his name as Daniel said he prefers Bush because of the values held by his brother and their father, former President George H.W. Bush.

"He comes from a family that is comfortable talking about faith, about God. We haven’t had that. And we need that, especially now," he says.

The state's conservatives have played a prominent role in past campaigns - Bush will face resistance from some of those voters, largely because of his support of legal status, but not full citizenship, for illegal immigrants. In addition: His backing of a controversial Common Core education plan doesn't help with conservatives.

But even if there are questions about what Bush stands for, there is no question about the recognition power of the family brand. Three childhood friends on their way from Illinois to play the slots at a casino on the Mississippi River lit up at the mention of the Bush name.

"He’s as known as known can get," says Susan Montgomery, 47. "Which means no surprises."

(Additional reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti; Editing by John Whitesides)