Jeb Bush's Conservative Bid For Governor: The Highlight Reel

FILE - In this Oct. 18, 1994 file photo, Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeb Bush gives his closing remarks during
FILE - In this Oct. 18, 1994 file photo, Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeb Bush gives his closing remarks during a debate with Gov. Lawton Chiles in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Jeb Bush was a self-proclaimed “head-banging conservative” back in 1994, running for governor of Florida on a promise to “club this government into submission.” He lost. Four years later, Bush returned, this time as a compassionate voice for education reform and society’s have-nots. And this time, he came out the winner.(AP photo/Chris O'Meara, File)

The Jeb Bush of 1994 looked quite different, in appearance and ideology, than the man now preparing for a possible presidential run.

Then a wealthy businessman at the age of 41, Bush mounted a challenge to incumbent Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat with a Southern drawl whose tendency to recite folksy sayings rivaled that of now-Vice President Joe Biden. Chiles narrowly won re-election by 63,940 votes, even though he refused to collect money from in-state or out-of-state political action committees. He also limited his campaign contributions to $100, an unimaginable feat in today's political world.

Five other Republicans ran for the nomination, yet Bush emerged victorious from that field on a conservative platform that included radical reforms to taxes, education, welfare and criminal justice. In the end, Crowley Political Report, a Florida blog, chalked up Bush's loss to "misjudgment, poor timing, [and a] failure to act quickly at crucial moments." His running mate, state Rep. Tom Feeney, may have also had something to do with it. Chiles portrayed Feeney as a political and religious extremist (he supported prayer in schools and once co-sponsored a resolution to "dissolve" the U.S. if the federal deficit ever exceeded $6 trillion) and used his candidacy to question Bush's judgement.

The race, and the debates that ensued, may hold some clues as to the kind of race Bush may run should he decide to enter the presidential contest. As HuffPost's Christina Wilkie put it, "becoming more 'Ted Cruz-like' may be precisely what he needs to do to make it to the 2016 general election. Many of the social and political reforms that Bush laid out in 1994 still align with the values of Republican primary voters."

Here is some footage from Bush's 1994 gubernatorial bid:


At an Oct. 20, 1994, campaign stop in Lakeland, Florida, Bush railed against the "pathology" of the "permanent underclass" and said that "we need to dismantle the welfare state."

He elaborated further during a gubernatorial debate with Chiles: "We have to have the courage to recognize that demands created on government come from our welfare system, and we need to dismantle the welfare state over a period of time and change the incentive system and the dynamics of that system before its too late."


At an Oct. 18 gubernatorial debate, Bush called on Congress to adequately fund the Immigration and Naturalization Service, so "that they can interdict more adequately and deport, because today we have many people in South Florida who are deportable. We know where they are, but INS doesn't have the capacity of doing it."

At a Nov. 1 debate in Tampa, Florida, Bush said he opposed denying education and health benefits to children of undocumented immigrants. "What we ought to do is interdict our borders," he said.


As a businessman who made his money in private equity, Bush has been compared to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Democrats pilloried Romney and his wealth, portraying the former Massachusetts governor as an out-of-touch plutocrat. In 1994, Chiles took another tack with Bush: drawing attention to his business dealings. Bush's answer, "I am a millionaire, I guess, and so are you," may offer clues as to how he would respond to similar attacks in the future.


Bush opposes abortion, except in cases of incest, rape or when the life of the woman is endangered. During his successful 1998 gubernatorial bid, he projected a more moderate tone on the issue.

"I believe that life begins at conception. I do not believe that the question of abortion will be solved until there is a broad consensus on the subject and until that time it is inappropriate to be advocating constitutional amendments. This is a typical wedge issue that politicians use today to strike fear that somehow people's rights are going to be taken away," he said during an Oct. 20 debate in St. Petersburg.

"I will not be leading the charge to overturn the constitution on this issue," he added.

It's also interesting to see the degree to which Bush moderated his pitch to voters in just four years. Differing from his earlier gubernatorial run, when he railed against the "pathology" of the welfare state, Bush in 1998 eschewed the podium and presented himself as the candidate for limited government and "reasonable regulatory reform."



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