Bush Vote Divided in GOP Race

President Bush and his father are keeping quiet, but sister Doro Bush Koch hosted a Mitt Romney fundraiser.
President Bush and his father are keeping quiet, but sister Doro Bush Koch hosted a Mitt Romney fundraiser. (By Ash Severe -- U.s. Navy Via Associated Press)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

George P. Bush had just finished telling his father, the former governor of Florida, that he had decided to endorse former senator Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee for president.

Jeb Bush assured his eldest son that all the Republican candidates are "great" and that whatever he did would be okay with him and the family. Then he offered an unsolicited piece of advice to the young namesake of the 41st and 43rd presidents.

"His personal recommendation was to stay out of the madness of politics and focus on work," George P. Bush recalled last week. Instead, the 31-year-old venture capitalist from Fort Worth signed on to raise at least $50,000 for the "Law & Order" television star, a feat he says he is "close" to achieving. Why Thompson? Because he was the only presidential candidate to call and ask for his vote, the younger Bush said.

With no certain Republican front-runner and the most open-ended nominating process in decades, it is perhaps no surprise that the party's first family is just as divided in settling on a candidate. While its most powerful members -- President Bush, his father and his brother Jeb -- have remained conspicuously on the sidelines, their public statements and body language carefully analyzed for evidence of whom they privately favor, other family members have spread their endorsements around.

George P. Bush's little brother, whom everyone in the family calls "Jebby," has signed on to the campaign of former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani as the young professionals chairman in Florida. Their aunt Doro, the president's younger sister, co-hosted a Washington fundraiser in February for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. One of the president's brothers, Neil M. Bush, attended a Texas event for Romney.

In a brief response to an e-mail inquiry last week, Jeb Bush said: "I don't know where the other Bushes sympathies are. I know I admire all of the candidates for different reasons. My boys made their decisions on their own. I am proud of them for their involvement."

In fact, the former governor has praised all his party's major candidates. In a recent interview online, he said Giuliani has "high energy and tremendous personality," and he called Thompson a "committed conservative." He said he admires the courage of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and praised Romney's "intellectual curiosity," saying "he's incredibly smart and asks the questions necessary."

President Bush has said he will make no endorsement during the primary season. His father, former president George H.W. Bush, who is 83, has met with several of the leading GOP candidates but has made it clear to close associates that he has little desire to jump into the fray in 2008.

The lack of political action represents only the second time since the 1970s that the Bush dynasty has not been actively involved in a presidential election.

To be sure, the campaigns of Republican candidates are filled with former staffers and advisers from the Bush world. But the family members are not focused on electing one of their own, as they were in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2004.

"They don't feel entitled to push or pull the party in any direction," said Jim McGrath, who was a speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush and served as his post-White House chief of staff in Texas for many years. "They are quite content to let the political marketplace sort itself out."

Discovering the 2008 presidential preferences of some Bush family members is as simple as looking up their campaign contributions or asking them directly.

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