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Eye On Candidates
May 6, 2015

Bush Having Trouble With Evangelicals?

The Washington Times reports on former Florida Governor Jeb Bush's potential problem rallying evangelical Christians, a key constituency in the Republican Party, to his 2016 presidential campaign:

Jeb Bush misfires with evangelicals over gay marriage supporters in inner circle

Jeb Bush’s latest effort to court evangelical voters boomeranged when a Christian radio network boss challenged him for hiring two political aides who support same-sex marriage, and the former Florida governor conceded that he couldn’t identify any “genuine” conservatives in his inner circle.

The details of Mr. Bush’s private phone call in mid-April with Rich Bott, whose religious radio network of 100 stations stretches from California to Tennessee within potential reach of 51 million listeners, were confirmed to The Washington Times by Mr. Bott and top aides to Mr. Bush.

It is the latest bellwether of the former Florida governor’s struggles with certain constituencies inside the Republican Party’s conservative base who are wary of his potential positioning on marriage, education, immigration and spending heading into his bid for the White House...

The article goes on to note that Bush's record as a governor isn't a problem for most of this constituency, but his more recent history including staff hires are proving problematic:

Mr. Bush earned high marks from conservatives of all stripes during his gubernatorial terms for his stands on economic and social issues. Mr. Bott and other evangelicals praised him for siding with Terri Schiavo’s brother and parents in wanting to prolong her life support in the famous right-to-life case a decade ago.

But Mr. Bush’s relations with evangelical voters have grown strained since, in part because of comments he has made since re-entering the private sector.

That poses a challenge for him given that more than half the voters who choose the Republican presidential nominee in state primary elections and caucuses next year are likely to be born-again Christians, based on exit poling of previous election cycles...

Mr. Bush is on record as opposing same-sex marriage but hired David Kochel to run his campaign organization when it becomes official. He also hired Tim Miller to be the communications director of the campaign when it gets underway, presumably later this spring.

Mr. Kochel and Mr. Miller publicly advocate same-sex marriage, arguing that it should be guaranteed under the Constitution...

How well Bush navigates this issue could help to determine how well he does in the first contest of 2016, Iowa, where evangelicals have played a significant role in helping the last two winners, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.