Amid the chants of “Jeb! Jeb! Jeb!” former State House Speaker Will Weatherford introduced Jeb Bush Jr. to a crowd of about 40 people in a cramped, damp kitchen. It was the official opening of former governor and presidential aspirant Jeb Bush’s statewide election headquarters off Hillsborough Avenue at the Beaumont Business Center in the Town ‘n’ Country area of Tampa Thursday.
Standing next to a refrigerator and flanked by Weatherford and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Jeb Jr., 31, spoke for about two minutes, thanking the group of state and local Republicans and approximately 60 supporters who were lining the steamy halls.
Riding on the crest of a week that included his father’s appearance on the debut of Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show on Tuesday night, Bush expressed his gratitude and later called his father-son trip to New York for the live taping “a lot of fun especially as we didn’t know which way it would go.”
For the first time in weeks, Bush appears to have halted slipping further in the polls behind GOP front runners Donald Trump (32%) and former neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson (19%).
According to Thursday’s CNN poll, Bush is up a percentage point since last week’s all-time low of eight percent. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is fourth with 7%. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (3%) joins 10 other candidates holding 5% or less of the vote.
Also Thursday, with the exception of former state lawmaker Johnnie Byrd and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Bush received endorsements from several recent GOP speakers of the Florida House of Representatives including current Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Will Weatherford, Allan Bense, Dean Cannon, Tom Feeney, John Thrasher and Daniel Webster.
Though Thursday’s event was attended by a large group of seasoned local and state Republican politicians, including Senate Transportation Chairman Jeff Brandes, Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano and House Majority Leader Rep. Dana Young, Jeb Jr. has been appealing to millenials.
After spending the past few years helping his father run a private investment firm in Miami, John Ellis Bush Jr. (Jebby or 2.0 as he is referred to by some campaign aides) often travels with and represents his father with a focus on building support among Hispanic voters.
As the bilingual, Mexican-American son of Jeb and Columba Bush and raised in multi-icultural Miami, Jeb Jr. appears affable and able to connect with people of all demographics.
“It’s been a lot of traveling but I have to say, it’s been a lot of fun meeting so many different people and hearing their concerns and stories,” Bush Jr., said.
Jeb Jr., the youngest of Bush’s three children, said the family makes it a point to return home to Miami as often as possible for Sunday dinners.
“Time to re-connect and re-charge,” he said.
Over the weekend, Jeb Jr. will attend the ribbon-cutting of Bush’s Miami field office.
As for the location of Bush’s state election headquarters in the back corner of a nondescript office park, Jeb Jr. joked, “the rent was cheap.”
University of South Florida political science professor and political analyst Dr. Susan MacManus said that Tampa was a logical choice for Bush’s state campaign headquarters.
“Tampa is the biggest medium in terms of registered voters,” MaManus said. “Accessibility to younger volunteers is also essential, especially as we get closer to elections.
MacManus said lots of teachers urge students to participate as volunteers in campaigns of their choice. In MacManus’ senior level politics classes, one-fourth of a student’s grade is based on their campaign participation.
“With so many schools here such as USF, HCC and UT, headquarter location is pivotal in many students’ choices for campaign participation,” MacManus said. “It seems like a logical choice for Bush.”