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Jeb Bush launches presidential bid, touting record as Fla. governor

Bush emphasizes his conservative credentials while sticking to principles on key issues

In the latest in a number of suspenseless campaign announcements of the 2016 presidential race, Republican Jeb Bush formally launched his White House bid Monday afternoon in Miami.

"The presidency should not be passed on from one liberal to the next. Our country’s on a very bad course and the question is, 'What are we going to do about it?'" Bush said at a spirited rally at Miami-Dade College, crammed with supporters chanting his first name. "The question for me is what am I going to do about it, and I’ve decided I’m a candidate for the President of the United States of America.

Since announcing in December that he was “actively exploring” a run, Bush, a former Florida governor and a brother and son of former presidents, has visited early primary states, wrangled with questions about his family’s legacy and raised millions of dollars for his super PAC, uninhibited by the campaign finance rules he will have to obey as an official candidate.

He has not, however, managed to break free from a crowded pack of GOP presidential contenders or become the front-runner among those seeking the Republican Party’s nomination.

Bush attempted to address the persistent skepticism among Republican voters and activists about his conservative bona fides — a baffling misconception to observers of his governorship in Florida who point to a conservative record on everything from fighting teachers’ unions to tax cuts for the wealthy to social issues.

"We made Florida number one in job creation and number one in small business creation. 1.3 million new jobs, 4.4 percent growth, higher family income, eight balanced budgets, and tax cuts eight years in a row that saved our people and businesses 19 billion dollars," he said. "And if I am elected president, I’ll show Congress how that’s done."

During his two terms leading the state, Bush indeed vetoed $2 billion from the state budget, earning him the nickname Veto Corleone, and trimmed the state workforce by 13,000 people. He passed a number of tax cuts that primarily benefited businesses and the wealthy, including a repeal of the state’s tax on personal assets and investments.

He was an early advocate for school choice, going up against the teachers’ unions and championing voucher programs that routed public money toward private and charter schools. In a case that made national headlines, Bush personally intervened in prolonging the life of Terri Schiavo, a brain-dead woman, going up against both the wishes of her husband and the orders of Florida courts.

“Anybody who doesn’t think he’s conservative just doesn’t know him. He was an unabashed capitalist conservative who led with conservative policies and principles,” said Mike Hanna, a Florida political strategist who worked on Bush’s gubernatorial campaigns. “He supported school vouchers before it was a cool. He cut $20 billion in taxes when he left office. He earned Florida an AAA bond rating. He was a strong supporter of gun rights. What’s not conservative about that?”

If elected President, Bush vowed to return the United States to its status as an "economic superpower," promising to raise GDP growth to 4 percent and create 19 million jobs. 

In Miami, Bush promised to take his message across the country to any voter that would listen, including those that the Republican Party has struggled to reach in recent years.

"As a candidate, I intend to let everyone hear my message, including the many who can express their love of country in a different language," Bush said as he broke into Spanish. "I will campaign as I would serve, going everywhere, speaking to everyone, keeping my word, facing the issues without flinching, and staying true to what I believe."

Bush has, at times, encouraged the view of himself as a pragmatic reformer and consensus builder willing to defy the Republican base in order to expand the party’s reach and stake out forward-thinking policy positions. In 2013 he chided the party for allowing voters to believe that Republicans were “anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker.” In December, he made headlines when declaring that Republicans would have to “lose the primary to win the general.”

But that tone doesn’t necessarily match up with how Bush governed in Florida, aggressively pushing his conservative priorities with the help of a Republican legislature, said Robert Crew, a political science professor at Florida State University and the author of “Jeb Bush: Aggressive Conservatism in Florida.” Crew noted that Bush had little need or desire to reach out to Democrats across the aisle.  

“He is and was as governor of Florida very conservative on all dimensions,” he said. “He was no pragmatist when he was a governor of Florida. He was an ideologue. He proposed things and pushed things through the Florida legislature, which idealized him. There wasn’t any compromise.”

Still, on two critical issues, Bush has gone against party orthodoxy. He has been unwavering in his support for immigration reform that would create a path to legal status for a portion of the nation’s undocumented immigrants. And he has been an outspoken defender of Common Core, a set of federal education standards that conservatives believe is a clear example of government overreach.

Hanna said that as Bush is officially launching his campaign, he has the time to tout his conservative record as governor and educate voters about the nuances of his stances.

“Once he gets to the voters and they can hear firsthand his positions on Common Core and immigration, I think he leaves most folks pretty satisfied,” he said. “It’s early. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

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