George W. Bush Prepares to Give Jeb an Assist in South Carolina

The former president will campaign with his wife for his younger brother.

February 15, 2016, 8:12 AM

— GREENVILLE, SC -- It was a common refrain for Jeb Bush one recent morning in South Carolina. He was speaking of his love for his family.

"I'm proud of my dad, proud to be George H.W. Bush's son. … I am proud to be George W. Bush's brother," he exclaimed before adding, "I won the lottery being Barbara Bush's son."

After Bush mentioned each family member at the event in Anderson, the crowd stood and applauded. After all, South Carolina, as the Bush campaign insists, is Bush country.

The Palmetto State has been good to the family; both George H.W. and George W. won each of their respective primaries in the state. George W., the last Republican president, has a 77 percent approval rating among Republicans nationally.

Beth Spann, a retired American Greetings worker who saw Bush after the Anderson event, said she believes his last name is an asset, especially here.

"It's always been a Bush state,” she said. “And the one thing about Jeb, his mama brought him up right and she's going to get him if he makes a mistake.”

Of course, the campaign knows this. That’s why they’re rolling the former President George w. Bush out today for a joint rally in North Charleston with his little brother and former first lady Laura Bush. Campaign aides say thousands are expected to attend.

"We're down to the last weeks, when the eyes on the nation are on South Carolina," said Brett Doster, who heads the campaign's efforts in the state and ran state campaigns for President Bush and Mitt Romney. "The president offered to come in and do some events. The Bush family is extremely well regarded in South Carolina. We will take any family member with the last name Bush at any time."

Doster said that the Palmetto State's large population of veterans sets a perfect stage for the elder Bush to step in.

"Military and national defense issues are huge in South Carolina,” he said. “The fact that the president has been identified as being strong commander-in-chief is something we took in consideration.”

The decision to bring the former president out on the campaign trail now was no accident. South Carolina is chock full of veterans and evangelicals, groups that voted for the 43rd president in droves.

Charlie Condon, who was George W. Bush's South Carolina co-chairman in 2004, said the former president, 69, is a “really good retailer campaigner. I have a lot of respect for President Bush and I can see why Jeb would want him to campaign for him in South Carolina."

But Condon is not supporting Jeb Bush, 63, this year, instead choosing to back Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

"Whether an actual voter will change his or her mind in light of Jeb's brother being for him -- after all that’s what the situation is, he's his brother -- I just don’t know,” Condon said.

With a full week of campaigning left before the GOP primary Saturday, Condon said the stakes could not be higher. South Carolina is known as a state where the blows are low and the tricks are dirty.

George W. Bush's 2004 presidential campaign was mired in controversy over allegations of push polls that circulated rumors that his rival, Sen. John McCain, had fathered an illegitimate child. During the 41st president's run, his win was largely owed to the now-infamous Willie Horton ad that suggested that Bush's opponent, Michael Dukakis, was soft on crime, by invoking images of a black felon who, while on a prison furlough program, escaped and raped a woman.

By contrast, the former Florida governor has pledged to run a "hopeful, optimistic" campaign focused on his record.

"My brother will be part of that story," Bush told reporters in Columbia last week. "I’m proud of the fact he's coming and honored. This is the first that he's really kind of stepped out in the political realm since he was president. I think there will be a lot of interest in what he has to say."

For Gayle Bartal of Anderson the other members of the Bush family are a good indicator of what kind of man the latest Bush to run for the White House is.

"Their family has demonstrated Christian values and that's very important to me,” she said.

But her husband, Jim, who voted for the two former presidents Bush, disagreed.

"I get tired of seeing a political family in leadership positions,” he said. “I think we need diversity."

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