They’re following him everywhere, these guys. Autograph hunters, three of them. They were at the fundraiser last night, out at the Living History Farms in West Des Moines, and now here they are again, waving at Jeb Bush from behind a wire fence when he arrives at the Iowa State Fairgrounds for private meetings and a brief public talk to agribusinessmen. They jump up and down, waving photographs and signs, books and scraps of paper. Being Iowans, they address him politely, using the honorific even as they scream to catch his attention: “Governor Bush! Governor Bush!”
Bush disappears into a building, and when he emerges a couple hours later, after the meetings and the talk, a young aide points him to a waiting minivan, and they’re still there, still politely beseeching.
“Man, those guys just don’t quit, do they?” Bush says in the car. He gives them a theatrical shrug through the car window. “I don’t have the time, man,” he says, pointing at his watch. “Gotta go.”
“Just one!” yells their leader, a large teen squeezed sausage-like into a Kansas City Royals hoodie. “Governor!”
One of his aides explains that the trio stalk celebrities for autographs, which they then try to sell wherever they can. Bush laughs: “Good luck with that.”
A few minutes later the minivan rolls to a stop at another section of the vast fairgrounds, where a camera crew is set up under a picturesque stand of trees. As he travels around the country Bush communicates with his followers often by video. He rarely talks to the press at length, and here in the early days of his unofficial campaign for the presidency, his time is taken up by meetings with funders and donors—high net worth individuals, as rich people sometimes call themselves—and occasional set pieces, like his talk to the agribusinessmen at the fairgrounds. In his mini-videos he tells his supporters where he’s been and what he’s just done there, and where he’s headed and what he’s about to do there. He doesn’t mention the fundraisers, of course.
Against the backdrop of the trees Bush stands before the camera and improvises a few lines. He’s conspicuously tall, over 6'3", maybe 6'4", depending on who you talk to, and like a lot of unusually tall people he bears the marks of a lifetime spent trying to look inconspicuous in the company of people much shorter than he is. The stoop and the rounded shoulders look by now irreversible. At 62, he still moves at the unhurried pace of an accomplished athlete—he was a walk-on varsity tennis player in college—and despite many months of a vigorous exercise program and a cruel dietary regime, he retains the well-fed look of his younger years.
“Aw, you gotta be kidding me,” he says. The trio have followed him in a car. They’re standing next to it, waiting—politely—to be called over, each holding a large color photo of Bush from his days as governor of Florida. An aide tells Bush his entourage is running late. Bush waves them over anyway, and they scamper to his side, but only after ducking back into their car and withdrawing another collection of photos to be signed.
If you ask Jeb Bush if there’s an aspect of his life that people might be surprised to learn about, he usually says, “I’m an introvert.” It’s an odd frailty for a professional politician, and Bush says it took him years of effort to overcome his inborn shyness.
“I learned that in order to make your case, or in order to serve or in order to advance a cause, you have to connect with people,” he said earlier this year. “You have to engage with people, look ’em in the eye, connect with them on a human level, understand where they’re coming from.”
His efforts to connect with the autograph hunters don’t seem to work terribly well—not for lack of trying on his part.
“You guys registered to vote?” Bush asks, and the three guys stare blankly at each other. Vote?
“Gonna show up for the caucuses in January?” Caucuses?
“Here,” their leader says. From beneath his hoodie he’s produced a book that Bush cowrote. Bush signs. “And here”—another picture, even bigger this time, of Governor Bush resplendent against an American flag. Bush signs it and turns to leave. “Wait, one more, please,” the hoodie says. A baseball appears.
“You want me to sign . . . a baseball?”
The hoodie nods excitedly.
“Here’s the deal,” Bush says, holding the ball. “I sign this, you guys register to vote, okay? And you show up at the caucuses. A signature for a vote. Is that a deal?”