The Blog

The Brother Also Rises?

Jeb Bush defied Democratic pundits with a convincing victory in Florida. Does he go to the head of the class for 2008?

12:55 AM, Nov 6, 2002 • By LEE BOCKHORN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Tim Russert: Now, you said in The New York Times last week, "Jeb Bush is gone." You want to take those words back?

DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe: Of course not. I'm very excited about what's going on in Florida.

Russert: He's going to lose, guaranteed?

McAuliffe: Yep. That is why the president was down there yesterday for his 13th visit. People in Florida are energized. They've already started the early voting. And if you look at Broward and Dade counties, there are lines already, huge lines, people--record vote coming out in Florida . . . we are going to win Florida, which is going to set us up, Tim, very nicely for 2004.

--From NBC's "Meet The Press," November 3, 2002

DOES ANYONE want to take odds on how many days it will be before Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe finds himself looking for a new job?

Jeb Bush not only didn't lose Florida, he won it decisively over Democrat Bill McBride--by about 13 points. Bush won the Hispanic vote by a good dozen points, and, even more impressive for a Republican, split the women's vote evenly with his opponent. All this, despite the massive Democratic effort against Bush that McAuliffe alluded to on "Meet the Press," including visits from Bill Clinton and Al Gore intended to boost black turnout and re-ignite the anger of Florida Democrats over the messy end of the 2000 presidential election. Granted, it's now clear that Bill McBride was not quite ready for prime time, but given how many pundits believed Jeb's reelection hopes were in deep trouble after 2000, the extent of Bush's triumph is remarkable. Even when taking Jeb's family name out of consideration and judging him purely on his own merits, after this victory, you might want to put your money on a Jeb Bush presidential run in 2008.

Of course, we're just barely sorting through the returns of 2002, but any political junkie worth his salt is already calculating how this year's events affect the stock of potential White House candidates in 2004 (for the Democrats) and 2008 (for both parties).

Let's take the Republicans first. Some months ago, much of the Beltway chattering class (myself included) was toying with the intriguing prospect of Condi Rice replacing Dick Cheney on the GOP ticket in 2004, setting her up as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in 2008. But everyone seems to have forgotten about another possible presidential successor who's close to George W.--his brother. Jeb Bush has now been reelected convincingly in a large swing state that is much more competitive than W.'s Texas ever was. And based on his record on issues like education, taxes and spending, and racial preferences, as a governor Jeb arguably has governed more conservatively than his brother ever did.

The other Republican whose 2008 presidential prospects might rise after last night is Tennessee senator Bill Frist, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Though much of the credit for the GOP's regaining the Senate majority belongs to President Bush, clearly Frist did something right in recruiting candidates and allocating party resources. And let's not forget, he's now put himself on a first-name basis with every major Republican donor in the country.

As for Democrats, this year's results could mean one of several things for the party's 2004 presidential hopefuls. The party's left wing can now make a strong case that what hurt the Democrats this year was their failure--on issues from taxes to health care to war with Iraq--to distinguish themselves in any meaningful way from Bush and the Republicans. The greatest blame for this failure will almost certainly be laid at the feet of Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, which probably kills their presidential hopes. Ironically, the person who may have been helped the most last night is . . . Al Gore. Suddenly, Gore's aggressive attacks on the administration's handling of the economy, taxes, and the war on terrorism (including Iraq) might endear him to a left wing that desperately craves some direction, fire, and a nationally recognized voice that can counteract Bush's popularity. Another liberal Democratic presidential aspirant, Massachusetts senator John Kerry, must now decide if he's willing to match Gore as a vocal critic of Bush from the left.