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Fallin, Bush visit in Oklahoma could benefit both

- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is weighing a possible presidential run, visited with Gov. Mary Fallin on Tuesday for a fundraiser and a public event at a local charter school that could prove mutually beneficial for the two politicians.

Bush and Fallin met with teachers and students from the KIPP College Preparatory School, a charter middle school on the city's northeast side touted as an example of an education success in an urban setting with high poverty rates.

The visit gives Fallin an opportunity for a plug from a high-profile Republican as she ramps up her 2014 re-election bid, but it also provides Bush a networking opportunity in a state Republicans like to boast is the "reddest of the red."

"It gives Bush a chance to tap into a very viable network in Oklahoma ... both fundraising and grassroots networks," said Pat McFerron, a Republican pollster and political strategist. "There's no doubt that Gov. Bush and his family have incredible star power in this state.

"And there's no political figure in the state with more statewide ties than (Fallin) has right now given her history as lieutenant governor, in Congress and now as governor."

A $500-per person Tuesday evening fundraiser Bush was scheduled to attend for Fallin had to be moved to the Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club to accommodate more people, according to Fallin's campaign. The event was hosted by Tom and Judy Love, the owners of Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores.

While Bush hasn't committed to a presidential run in 2016, the visit gives him an opportunity to lay some groundwork in a state with a conservative reputation and some deep-pocketed donors, including many from the state's booming energy industry.

"We do have a lot of big Republican donors that donate nationally that are players in the state," said Chad Alexander, former chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party and now a lobbyist and GOP political strategist. "If you're running for president, especially if you're in a close presidential race ... those votes are going to matter. Who wins those little states is going to matter."

Oklahoma is among the Super Tuesday presidential primary states, and the GOP nominee was far from decided when Rick Santorum won Oklahoma's primary in 2012. Santorum, who twice visited Oklahoma, called the state "ground zero of the conservative movement."

Bush didn't take questions from reporters at Tuesday's event, but one of the middle school students asked Bush what he would do for education "if you become president."

"I'm not running for anything," Bush responded. "It's a hypothetical question."

He continued that Washington was not the place to look for answers when it comes to improving education.

"I think it has to be improved from the bottom up, not the top down," Bush told about a dozen students. "I do think this should be a national priority, so sometimes governors and presidents and leaders in general, which you all will be, can set the example and can make something more important by talking about it."

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