A different sort of Bush: policy wonk Jeb faces campaign image test

Updated: 2015-03-09 16:59


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A different sort of Bush: policy wonk Jeb faces campaign image test

Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush speaks at the Iowa Agriculture Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, March 7, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

WASHINGTON - In Republican Jeb Bush, Americans are seeing a different sort of Bush on their TV screens: a policy wonk who wears horn-rimmed glasses and has neither his brother's famous Texas swagger nor his father's patrician air.

The more introverted nature of Jeb, who admits he would rather stay home with a book than go out dancing, could be one challenge for his expected presidential campaign as he begins the kind of face-to-face interaction needed in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

The former Florida governor will need to convince voters to elect another Bush in 2016 over other Republican stars, many of whom so far appear more at ease in the public glare, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Bush, who has not run for office for 12 years and who admits he lost the 1994 Florida governor race because people did not connect with him, has not always looked comfortable on stage in the early stages of the Republican nominee race.

Bush's aides say he prefers question-and-answer formats to set-piece speeches because they plays to his strengths, such as a detailed knowledge of policy. Many Republicans say that all he needs to do is shake off some rust.

"Jeb's got substance," said Florida Republican strategist Rick Wilson. "He's got a lot of stories to tell as a successful governor and those things matter in the assessment people are going to make about the various candidates in the field."

The brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush is a practiced public speaker, but he tends to rush through prepared speeches and image experts say he has room to improve his body language.

And Bush is downright nerdy when it comes to details of policy and prides himself on minutiae. While the folksy George W. Bush famously described al Qaida militants as "evildoers," Jeb uses diplomat-speak to say the extremist Islamic State group is an "asymmetric threat."

David Yepsen, a long-time Iowa watcher who is director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said presidential candidates need an electric and charismatic presence and Bush has a way to go to get there.

"If he's not exciting them with speeches and rhetoric the way Barack Obama did, he's got to do that personally and spend time with caucus-goers and primary voters and really work to overcome some of the problems he has as a result of his being the third Bush to run," he said.

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