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Bush family turns out to campaign in New Hampshire

By JO BECKER

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 16, 2000


MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Bundled in a coat and bearing a bag of oranges, Gov. Jeb Bush stumped through a wealthy New Hampshire neighborhood Saturday hoping to help his brother win the presidency.

At Bob and Joan Sundeen's antiques-filled home, the Florida governor found George W. Bush supporters who had personally met both his parents during past campaigns.

"Listen," Bob Sundeen told the governor Saturday. "He'll win, but it will be a struggle.' "

The mill towns, sub-zero weather and feisty voters of New Hampshire are familiar, if not always friendly, territory for the Bush family.

President George Bush lost his first presidential primary bid here in 1980 to Ronald Reagan. In 1988, the senior Bush was able to turn around a loss in Iowa with a win in the Granite State's first-in-the-nation primary, and he went on to win the presidency. But in 1992, conservative commentator Pat Buchanan's strong second-place finish in the state's primary was seen as a blow to President Bush.

Now, polls show Texas Gov. George W. Bush is locked in a New Hampshire primary race that is too close to call, with Arizona Sen. John McCain slightly ahead. Though the Texas governor leads polls nationally, the Bush family once again finds itself rallying behind a member of its clan in a state known for a willingness to upset front-runners.

Jeb Bush brought a planeload of 140 Floridians to New Hampshire on Saturday, where they handed out literature, made phone calls and knocked on doors before heading home for warmer weather.

The group members, who each paid for their $425 airfare, included lobbyists and big-time fundraisers, several of whom were associated with Miami Dolphins owner and major GOP donor Wayne Huizenga. State politicians included Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher, Secretary of State Katherine Harris and House Speaker John Thrasher.

Some seemed bewildered by New Hampshire voters' insistence on door-to-door campaigning.

"In New Hampshire, you ask someone who they're going to vote for and they say, "I don't know -- I haven't met them all yet,' " said Gallagher. "It's so different than anywhere else."

The Florida governor was also joined by his brother Neil Bush. Jeb Bush's son has been putting up signs and helping out for weeks. His mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, will be campaigning in the state next week.

"This is what we know -- it's in our family," said George P. Bush, 23, Jeb's son.

George W. Bush's New Hampshire campaign said the visit will make a difference by keeping the Bush name in the news.

"Everyone welcomes this visit because of the high regard in which this family is held here," said Tom Rath, a Concord, N.H., lawyer who is an adviser to the Bush campaign. "You do have to be careful, though, because you don't want people to think, "The only reason he's running is because of his name.' "

But for Bush's chief Republican opponent, the presence of the Bush family only serves to underscore George W. Bush's absences.

"I think a lot of voters in New Hampshire will say, "Great, there's the governor of Florida. Now where the hell is the governor of Texas?' " said McCain spokesman Todd Harris.

Both McCain and the Texas governor were in Iowa debating Saturday.

Jeb Bush didn't get much of a chance to meet New Hampshire voters. At the first event, he was heckled by mostly out-of-state college students. He met about a dozen voters walking door-to-door.

One undecided voter, June Bragg of Manchester, smiled patiently as the Florida governor made his pitch. After he left, she said she has not made up her mind.

"I'm glad to have met him, but it didn't make any difference," she said. "I've met George, and I'll probably vote for him, but I just don't know."

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