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Florida's GOP delegates wonder: Where's Jeb

Jeb Bush is keeping a low profile at the convention, much like he has in his brother's campaign. He arrives tonight.

By BILL ADAIR and TIM NICKENS

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 1, 2000


PHILADELPHIA -- When Florida Republican delegates were asked to pledge their votes for Texas Gov. George W. Bush on Monday night, his brother Jeb was nowhere in sight. He was 1,000 miles away in Tallahassee.

As the TV cameras at the Republican National Convention zoomed in on state GOP Chairman Al Cardenas, he opted to pass, postponing Florida's vote until tonight or Wednesday night when Florida's governor can play a role.

Gov. Jeb Bush is scheduled to arrive this evening, more than a day and a half after the convention began. Even his parents showed up on Monday.

It's another indication of Jeb Bush's surprisingly low profile in his brother's campaign.

He has chosen not to be a Florida delegate and is not scheduled to be a convention speaker. He's done few TV interviews about his brother and done relatively little campaigning for him. In the past week, the Florida governor has preferred to have his 24-year-old son George P., the convention's youth chairman, take the spotlight.

Several Florida Republicans said Monday they had expected the governor to be more active.

"I thought he might be the head of the delegation, as he was four years ago," said Jack Hackett, a delegate from Punta Gorda.

"I haven't heard him doing much," said Eleanor McSweeney, a delegate from Palm Beach. "I think the family is telling him to stay put until his brother is elected."

Another delegate, Dr. Frank Biasco of Pensacola, was surprised to discover that Bush would not make it to Philadelphia in time for the traditional photo session of the delegation.

Bush acknowledged his small campaign role in a New York Times interview last month, saying that he had "been almost reclusive." He attributed that to his sensitivity not to leave the impression of a family dynasty.

In interviews with the St. Petersburg Times, Bush and his aides emphasized that he has tremendous duties running the nation's fourth-largest state.

"I can help my brother more by being the best governor I can be, being successful here, serving the state," Bush said.

While no one questions Jeb Bush's love of, or loyalty to, his brother, the sibling relationship is a sensitive one -- a fact not lost on their parents. On the night in 1994 when George W. won the Texas governorship but Jeb Bush lost his bid to become Florida's governor, the Bush parents were careful to temper their celebration of George's victory.

The cover of the current Time magazine hints at the family awkwardness: It shows smiling profiles of former President Bush with George W. and a slightly blurry Jeb at their side, looking at them. The headline says "Inside the Bush Dynasty."

The story, noting that Jeb's resume is meatier than his older brother's, quotes a family friend saying that George W. was the kind of guy who hangs out with cheerleaders the night before the test, "and drives by the brainiac's house and says, "Jeb can I have your notes?' The brainiac gets an A but W. slides by with a B."

Florida delegates said the strength of the Bush family enhances the party's presidential prospects, but they don't want the family to appear too powerful.

Hackett, the Punta Gorda delegate, said the Florida governor should campaign strategically. "You don't want any backlash against the Bush family."

McSweeney, the Palm Beach delegate, said Jeb Bush was "doing it right" by staying low-key.

Pat Baker, a delegate from Pinellas County, said Bush gave up his seat as a delegate so someone else could have it.

"He did not feel he should get a seat above someone who has worked very hard in the party," Baker said.

Bush said he was not disappointed that he wasn't speaking.

"There are a lot of other people who are more deserving," he said.

Asked why Bush wasn't speaking, GOP Chairman Jim Nicholson said, "We have 30 Republican governors. We couldn't get them all up there to speak."

In the past week, Bush and his supporters have emphasized that he will be an enthusiastic supporter of his brother's presidential campaign.

Bush said he will be making several speeches in Philadelphia on his brother's behalf this week, including appearances before the Ohio and Michigan delegations. And when he gets to the First Union Center tonight, Florida's governor will reportedly be the only governor with his own skybox.

The skybox is being provided by the party. The food and drinks are being provided by eight lobbyists, including those who represent the Florida Association of Broadcasters, J.M. Enterprises, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Outback Steakhouses and Universal Studios in Orlando.

He plans to take off time this fall to campaign in Florida and around the country. How much he leaves the state will depend on whether Vice President Al Gore selects Florida Sen. Bob Graham as his running mate. If Graham is selected, Bush will focus more heavily on Florida.

When a reporter asked Bush if he was jealous of George W., he replied that he was very content as governor of Florida.

"It's not like I'm suffering here. I've got a big smile on my face."

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