Bush Fights Elitist Image, One Gas-Station Selfie at a Time

Looking to outrun the shadow of his family dynasty, the candidate is taking a folksy approach to campaigning in Iowa.

Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush poses for pictures after a town hall event at Adams Memorial Opera House June 16, 2015 in Derry, New Hampshire.
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
Tim Alberta
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Tim Alberta
June 17, 2015, 10:59 a.m.

SIGOURNEY, Iowa — What’s the best way to make voters forget that you’re part of a political dynasty? For Jeb Bush, the formula is coming into focus: selfies, handshakes, unhurried conversations, and an all-you-can-ask buffet of questions from voters and reporters alike.

The former Florida governor launched his campaign Monday in Miami by downplaying the advantage of being a Bush. He described the 2016 Republican primaries as “wide open” and said “it’s nobody’s turn” to become the nominee. In the 48 hours since, Bush has been hustling and highly accessible, showing a sudden energy on the trail that often seemed lacking during his exploratory phase.

It’s an effective way for Bush not only to shed the perception of aristocratic entitlement, but to strike a sharp contrast against Hillary Clinton, another dynastic candidate — one whose early campaign has been defined by careful stage-management and a lack of accessibility.

On Tuesday, Bush spent more than hour answering 16 questions at a town hall event in Derry, New Hampshire. His responses were thorough and at times he appeared pained to cut them off, knowing that he might be losing audience members but wanting to spend more time on the subject. After the event, he lingered in the building for some time, shaking every hand possible, posing for countless pictures, and engaging in a handful of lengthy conversations with voters.

He did the same Wednesday morning in Washington, Iowa, mingling for some time with voters at a house party after a lengthy speech and question-and-answer question. After he’d shaken his last hand, Bush held a press availability with a crowd of reporters, answering every question and in some cases requesting follow-ups. When his spokesperson announced the last question, Bush allowed for and answered at least four more, then proceeded to roll down the passenger window of his van and rib the “photo dogs” snapping shots of his entourage climbing into the car.

Less than an hour later, Bush was at it again, stopping in this small town for a visit to Casey’s General Store and gas station. The purpose of the stop was to meet with ABC News’ David Muir at the store for a session of b-roll taping — the two of them filling up coffees, buying snacks — but Bush wound up spending more time talking with Iowans than with Muir.

Inside the shop, Bush strolled around shaking hands and eventually wound up patiently assisting a technologically-impaired man in a racing T-shirt who wanted to take a selfie with the candidate. Outside the store, a few minutes later, Bush was standing on the curb with his staffers when a pickup truck pulled through the station with a trailer in tow. One of the two men in the truck yelled something about George W. Bush — and Jeb, without hesitation, jumped off the curb and jogged over to the truck, shaking hands with the tattooed men and chatting with them for several minutes before they pulled away.

It’s early, and whether Bush can sustain this kind of energy and upbeat attitude is one of the critical questions facing his campaign. Already, Bush, who has talked repeatedly of wanting to run a “joyful” campaign, has faced criticism for appearing annoyed or downright angry on the stump. BuzzFeed ran a story Monday previewing Bush’s launch entitled: “Jeb Bush Embarks On Least Joyful Campaign Ever.”

So far, Bush appears discernibly more enthusiastic than he did during the pre-campaign period — and it’s already paying dividends. Terry Greenley, a 60-year-old community banker, was inside the general store when Bush came in, and the two spent five minutes having a soft-spoken conversation about capital and the effects of the Dodd-Frank financial-regulation bill. When they finished, Greenley said Bush had left a striking impression on him. “He was very personable, very open, very friendly,” Greenley said.

Greenley, a swing voter who said he leans Republican, noted that he’d recently met with Hillary Clinton at an organized roundtable but didn’t get the same level of interaction. “You never know about these people,” Greenley said, “until you meet them.”

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