By Alexander Bolton - 10/14/10 03:48 PM EDT
Supporters of Jeb Bush say Bush fatigue will not be a significant problem if the former Florida governor decides to make a presidential run.
Many Republicans think Bush would be a frontrunner for the Oval Office if not for his brother’s lingering unpopularity.
And new polling gives them hope that time and President Obama’s tenure in the White House will change voters’ perceptions.
“I do think the term 'Bush fatigue' probably summarizes the challenge Jeb would have had running, even here in Florida,” said former Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), who served as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives under Bush and considers him a friend and mentor.
Feeney thinks history will take a favorable view of the George W. Bush administration, arguing that one of Obama’s biggest successes, growing stability in Iraq, is the culmination of a foreign policy mission that defined the Bush presidency.
“As time goes on, Bush fatigue dissipates and history may view the Bush legacy strongly,” Feeney said.
He also noted the family’s strong sense of service, which he said could factor into Jeb Bush’s future plans.
“Like all the Bushes I know, there’s a certain sense of call to duty to the country,” said Feeney. “If he thinks he’s the best person to run, there’s an excellent chance he could run. He’s a long way from that point, but it’s conceivable he could get there.”
The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll shows that 32 percent of likely voters in 10 battleground House districts across the country have a worse view of the former president’s administration compared to two years ago. Twenty-six percent of likely voters reported a more favorable view, and 38 percent said their view was the same.
The poll, conducted by Penn Schoen and Berland Associates, surveyed voters in Arkansas, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The aggregate sample had a margin of error of 1.5 percent.
When that sample is broken down by party, most Republicans — 47 percent — said they had a better view of the Bush administration, while only 10 percent had a worse view.
Mark Penn, the pollster who conducted the poll for The Hill, said other former presidents have seen more of a bump in their approval ratings after leaving office.
Penn said Bush’s connection to the economic downturn is “continuing to hold his numbers down and that would probably be disappointing for an ex president.”
But Jeb Bush’s allies predict that views of his brother’s administration will steadily improve while Obama holds office.
“Anybody named Bush looks better and better with every day of the Obama administration,” said Florida state Sen. Don Gaetz, a longtime friend and supporter of the former governor. “Jeb Bush has always maintained a very distinct and high-profile nationally.
“Even during the time his brother was way down in the polls — even among Republicans in Florida — Jeb Bush has always been magic,” Gaetz added.
“Bush fatigue may not be as big an issue given the failures of the Obama administration,” Gaetz said. “In two years or four years or six years, if Obama is still in office, those problems in the minds of Republican primary voters could far eclipse any negativity from the end of the Bush administration.”
But Bush could have to some work to do with independent voters.
The Hill’s poll found that 33 percent of independents have a worse view of the Bush administration compared to two years ago. Twenty-three percent reported a more favorable view and 40 percent said their opinions have not changed.
A majority of Democrats, 51 percent, said they have a worse view of the administration, while 12 percent now see it more favorably.
He briefly weighed and then passed on a run for Senate last year.
This election season he has endorsed Republican candidates across the country, such as gubernatorial hopefuls Meg Whitman in California and John Kasich in Ohio.
He made headlines when he got involved in Florida’s Senate race, criticizing independent candidate Gov. Charlie Crist’s ad attacking the GOP nominee’s stance on Social Security.
Bush has received rousing welcomes at various Republican campaign events, said former Florida Republican Party chairman Al Cardenas, who has traveled with him this year.
“I don’t know anyone who is as well-liked by as many Republicans of influence around the country as Jeb Bush,” said Cardenas.
Cardenas said he did not think negative views of the George W. Bush’s administration would affect Jeb Bush.
“The question is whether the polling numbers for his brother are that meaningful with respect to Jeb Bush’s political future,” said Cardenas. “I don’t really see it as that relevant as others do.
“I hope he’s encouraged to run for national office at some point,” he added.
But Bush hasn’t set up a political action committee, which would allow him to bank dollars for a potential bid and distribute funds to other Republican candidates.
Bush, who runs a consulting firm — Jeb Bush and Associates — and serves as a senior adviser to Barclays PLC, has also stayed active on the policy front.
Allies say he has invested much effort in his Foundation for Excellence in Education. He visited an elementary school in Orlando earlier this month to promote reading to a group of mostly minority students.
Bush had long been considered a formidable candidate for president. He served as the popular governor of one of the most important swing states in the country; he is known for his policy acumen; he has long had access to the GOP’s top donors and strategists through his family; and he has shown an ability to appeal to Hispanic voters — he speaks fluent Spanish and his wife is of Mexican heritage.
In April, Bush became one of the first prominent Republicans to criticize a controversial Arizona law allowing law enforcement to conduct spot checks of suspected illegal immigrants.
Bush has also defended his brother’s administration from Democratic attacks.
He told The New York Times in June that Obama needs to stop blaming his predecessor for the nation’s problems and take responsibility.
“It’s kind of like a kid coming to school saying, ‘The dog ate my homework,’ ” Bush said. “It’s childish. This is what children do until they mature. They don’t accept responsibility.”
Bush also said the president lacks fresh ideas.
“By and large, I think the president, instead of being a 21st-century leader, is Hubert Humphrey on steroids,” Bush said. “I don’t think there’s much newness in spending more money as the solution to every problem.”