- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2015

The political world has changed dramatically since a Bush last ran for president in 2004, creating challenges for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who announced in December that he was exploring a bid for the White House.

GOP analysts say the issues that faced his brother, then-President George W. Bush, are still much the same — education, immigration, social safety net programs and global terrorism — but the campaign environment is completely different, thanks chiefly to technology.

The Internet, which was somewhat of a novelty in Jeb Bush’s last campaign in 2002, and was just being tested as a political tool by Howard Dean in the 2004 presidential campaign, is now the backbone of fundraising. Meanwhile, candidates debate each other on Twitter through their smartphones and tablets, and campaigns know more about voters than they could have dreamed of a decade ago.

And the political environment has changed with the rise of the tea party, which rejected what they saw as overspending and government expansion under the last Bush presidency.

“The rancor, resentment, the concern, whatever drove those people to be active, was really generated during the Bush administration,” said GOP strategist Mike McKenna, alluding to the tea party. “That is something that the Jeb guys don’t seem to have a grasp of. They tend to think it was a rejection of Obama, but it was every bit as much resentment of the Bushes.”

Mr. Bush served as Florida governor from 1999 to 2007, establishing a record of cutting taxes and pushing educational reforms that increased accountability standards and expanded private school voucher programs.

SEE ALSO: Marco Rubio: Jeb Bush won’t affect my decision on 2016

He cut state jobs and gained national attention for his hurricane recovery efforts as well as in the controversial Terri Schiavo case, where he fought to restore her feeding tube.

Following his December announcement, a CNN/ORC poll showed him leading the pack of likely contenders, with 23 percent of respondents saying he is their first choice. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is running second with 13 percent. GOP 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, who is also thought to be considering another run, was not included in the survey.

The jury, though, is still out on whether the Bush camp is truly committed to run a cutting-edge campaign or whether it would be stuck in the sort of old-school mindset that many blamed for sinking Mr. Romney in 2012.

“The idea the Bush network is going to turn itself on is like imagining that the world is like it was in 1972, where all I need to do is get 10,000 rich guys and that is going to be enough,” Mr. McKenna said. “It is fantasy. It is fiction. It is nostalgia. It is not the way the world is right now.”

Mr. Bush’s allies, however, say he would have no trouble adapting to the modern-day political world.

“On the technology front, I chuckle at articles that claim Jeb is rusty,” said Ana Navarro, a GOP strategist. “Anybody who knows him understands his curiosity and contagious enthusiasm for technological advances.

SEE ALSO: Jeb Bush on gay marriage: Ought to be a ‘state decision’

“He’s the first one with whatever new gadget is developed,” she said. “He was an email maven before many of his friends were. I think he got into it quickly after Al Gore ‘invented’ it. If anybody out there thinks Jeb’s been sitting around in a cave starting a fire with sticks for the last 10 years, let them.”

GOP analysts also say that Mr. Bush, unlike his father or brother, is not a clear front-runner and will be running as a “moderate” — raising more questions about how his brand of politics will play with the anti-establishment wing of the party.

“Not only is Jeb not the front-runner, he also is not as conservative as George W.,” said Michael Dennehy, a New Hampshire-based GOP strategist. “So he has to navigate an election and win as a moderate Republican, which no other Bush has done before.”

Mr. Bush also must adapt to the technological challenges added since he last ran for office, including the rise of Facebook and Twitter, and how President Obama redefined in 2008 and 2012 the way in which modern campaigns operate.

“It’s remarkable how much change there’s been over the last decade,” said Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “Year by year the shift is incremental, but when you add all the increments up, the challenges Jeb Bush will face don’t much resemble his brother’s from 2004 — and Jeb won’t be the incumbent.”

Speaking earlier this year at a technology and political conference hosted by the Harvard Institute of Politics, Tim Cameron, digital director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said that in order to win the GOP nomination, a candidate must have a solid grasp of the digital game.

“It is easily the most competitive primary since the invention of the Internet, and it’s really going to come down to who runs the best campaign, and, as evidence shows, that is going to be heavily reliant on digital,” Mr. Cameron said. “I don’t see how a candidate will get out of that primary and win and not have solid digital programs, whether that is on the persuasion front, the online fundraising [or] organizing volunteers.

“In 2016 you will have a pretty digitally committed candidate regardless of which one it is come out of those races, and I think that is going to be a very high progression of politics in general,” he said.

Mr. Bush showed some digital prowess in December when he announced via Facebook and Twitter that he is actively exploring a presidential bid. The move was seen as an early attempt to pressure moderate-minded, deep-pocketed donors to get behind his potential candidacy.

And this week he announced “via smartphone” — and speaking in both English and Spanish — that he was launching the Right to Rise PAC, saying it will “support candidates that believe in conservative principles to allow all Americans to rise up.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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