Jeb Bush confirms White House bid

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush acknowledging supporters while formally announcing his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during a kick-off rally in Miami, Florida, on Monday.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush acknowledging supporters while formally announcing his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during a kick-off rally in Miami, Florida, on Monday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Republican pledges to fix problems in Washington, create jobs

DECLARING that "America deserves better", former governor Jeb Bush officially confirmed his bid for the White House, at the head of a tight Republican pack.

Mr Bush, 62, made his announcement on Monday in Florida, where he was a two-term governor, marking the start of what observers say will be his chance to step out from the shadow of his family name and campaign as his own man.

He promised he would fix the problems in Washington, create 19 million new jobs for Americans and make education a priority. "Our country is on a very bad course," he told supporters at the Miami Dade College. "The question for me is: What am I going to do about it? And I've decided I'm a candidate for president of the United States of America."

CHANGE THE COURSE

Our country is on a very bad course. The question for me is: What am I going to do about it? And I've decided I'm a candidate for president of the United States of America.

- Mr Jeb Bush

Observers believe two things will make him stand out from the crowded Republican field - his networking and fund-raising ability, as well as his strong credentials as governor in Florida, which is a key state in the presidential race.

Banking on his executive experience, Mr Bush vowed to "take Washington out of the business of causing problems", saying: "I know we can fix this because I've done it."

As governor from 1999 to 2007, he made education a priority, helped families with disabled children, succeeded in creating new jobs and introduced tax cuts. He also has strong support from minority voters in the state.

Hoping to apply his executive skills to the economy at large, he said: "There's not a reason why we cannot grow at 4 per cent a year and that will be my goal as president."

He also criticised American foreign policy, saying that if he were to become president, he would rebuild "vital friendships", in particular with Israel, and reverse America's military inferiority.

He held the Democrats responsible for the slowest economic recovery ever and also the biggest debt increases.

Current polls show Mr Bush still leading the crowded Republican slate, but he faces stiff competition from Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and Senator Marco Rubio.

When he is pitted against former Democrat secretary of state Hillary Clinton, political website Real Clear Politics puts her ahead with 47.6 per cent against his 42.4 per cent.

To show he is his own man, Mr Bush will need to underplay the family name. His campaign logo featuring just his first name "Jeb!" is a start.

The two former presidents in his family - father George H.W. Bush, and elder brother George W. Bush - were also noticeably absent from his announcement.

Said Ms Anita McBride, executive-in-residence at the Centre for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University (AU), who was a former assistant to president George W. Bush: "Our country doesn't like dynasties... The campaign starts now for him to tell the stories of who he is as his own man - Jeb the former governor and the bi-cultural family man."

Last month, Mr Jeb Bush fumbled in his response to whether he would have authorised an invasion of Iraq, his brother's unpopular policy which saw US-led coalition forces ousting Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Said Professor Candice Nelson of AU's department of government: "The roll up to the announcement has not gone as smoothly as he would have hoped."

Dr Hans Hassell, assistant professor of politics at Cornell College, said in the months to come, Mr Bush will have to show the party elite that he is able to unite the party, "a capable campaigner and a candidate that will attract independent voters".

His fund- raising ability - his war chest is set to have about US$100 million (S$135 million) in the first half of this year - also signals to the party that "he can raise the money needed to run a successful campaign", said Dr Hassell.

In the coming weeks, Mr Bush is expected to travel to key states New Hampshire and Iowa to seek the Republican nomination.

simlinoi@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2015, with the headline 'Jeb Bush confirms White House bid'. Print Edition | Subscribe