PELLA, Iowa — As his father was on stage here fielding questions from the crowd, Jeb Bush Jr., the third and youngest son of Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, was playing the role of seat filler.
He sat listening from the bleachers and later hung back quietly as the candidate posed for pictures with admirers. Earlier in the day in another town, he watched from a distance, arms crossed, as his father pitched Iowa Republicans for the first time as an official candidate.
John Ellis Bush Jr. is nicknamed Jebby — though he prefers Jeb — or “2.0,” as some campaign aides call him. The 31-year-old serves as a frequent travel companion and active campaign surrogate for his father, with a focus on building support among Hispanic and millennial voters.
It is a role once played by Jeb Bush himself for his father, George H.W. Bush, and for his brother, George W. Bush.
Jeb Bush’s oldest son, George P. Bush, the 39-year-old Texas land commissioner, will play a limited role because of his day job. His daughter, Noelle, 37, and his wife, Columba, aren’t expected to make many appearances. When asked this week, Jeb Bush suggested that his older brother might not campaign with him, either.
But Jeb Jr. has been close to his father for several years. They shared a Miami office suite, where they ran Jeb Bush & Associates, a consulting firm that focused on the health-care, technology, energy and real estate sectors.
After deciding last year to run for president, his father divested his business interests and left his son to run a few projects on his own.
“I basically told him I was all in and happy to do whatever he wanted me to,” Jeb Jr. said this week in his first extended interview. He said his father’s initial response was: “You should focus on making money and having more grandkids.”
Speaking with reporters this week, the candidate pulled Jeb Jr. in close and said: “My advice is to have fun, do it with joy in your heart, don’t get too wonky. Use the kind of humor that he’s got to take me down a notch or two.”
Jeb Jr. has already served as his father’s liaison to major GOP fundraising events and has headlined fundraisers for younger donors at Miami nightclubs, Washington restaurants and New York apartments.
“As Dad has said, we’re organizing the win and taking every state seriously,” he said. “It’s a huge effort. That’s one thing I’ve learned so far: how much of a massive effort this takes. Not only to potentially win a primary, but win a general. And also actually to get something done when you get there. It’s a huge, long process that takes a massive organization.”
Kent Lucken, a Bush supporter and Boston-based banker who is helping the campaign, said he was impressed by the younger Bush’s demeanor at a Utah conference hosted last weekend by 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
“I couldn’t get over how he’s picked up his father’s tone, his respectful manner,” he said. “He can speak like his dad. He’s been with him side-by-side for seven years doing business deals. Most fathers don’t spend seven years with their sons next to them like this.”
The Bushes are part of a long tradition of large political families helping a sibling or parent become president. Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy and her children met with small groups of female voters as her son, John F. Kennedy, campaigned for president in 1960. Romney’s five sons used an RV to tour Iowa’s 99 counties in 2008 and fanned out across the country for their father in 2012. Chelsea Clinton didn’t play an active role in Bill Clinton’s 1992 or 1996 campaigns, but she is expected to help Hillary Rodham Clinton in the coming year.
Jeb Bush’s first taste of presidential politics came in 1980, when his father sent him to Puerto Rico to help win the island’s first GOP primary. The three other Bush sons, George W., Marvin and Neil, also campaigned for their father that year in Iowa and New Hampshire. The family did it again in 1988 and 1992, and for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.
George P. Bush and Jeb Bush Jr. first dabbled in politics through MAVPAC, a committee launched by veterans of George W. Bush’s administration to help fund GOP campaigns. Jeb Jr. has been especially active in South Florida: He campaigned for Marco Rubio during his 2010 U.S. Senate campaign and has been mentioned as a possible candidate for several positions. For now, Jeb Jr. said, he’s more interested in charitable work with St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and helping his father.
Little has bothered him about the media coverage of his father, he said, but he is plagued by “the anxiety of people not knowing his record and who he is as Jeb.”
So Jeb Jr. is trying to build out his father’s personal history. At fundraisers hosted by Right to Rise USA, the super PAC supporting his father’s candidacy, he told younger crowds that his dad is a fan of “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” the 2006 movie starring Will Ferrell, who is also known for his lampooning of George W. Bush. The former governor also likes country music, Al Green and Stevie Wonder, his son said. And with a mother who was born in Mexico, Spanish music often filled the Bush home.
“There was a lot of salsa, a lot of Luis Miguel,” Jeb Jr. said, referring to the popular Mexican singer. “A little Cuban influence. But Mom was always big on the Luis Miguel.”
“My mom still speaks to me in Spanish,” he added. “I made the mistake of responding in English, so my Spanish is kind of intermediate. It should be fluent.”
After growing up in Miami, he attended the University of Texas and earned a Latin American Studies degree — just like his father. Jeb Jr. had a brief run-in with the law in 2005, when he was arrested in Austin for public intoxication and resisting arrest.
Now he lives near his parents with his wife, Sandra. She was born in Canada and is of Iraqi descent; they met in London when he was traveling on business. Together they speak to their two young daughters in English, Arabic and Spanish.
In a bilingual interview with ABC News this week, Jeb Bush marveled at how his young granddaughters are learning three languages. “It’s a very American mix,” he said in Spanish.