A year ago, when he was just beginning his push for the presidency, Jeb Bush declared that he was “my own man” and suggested he would run as far as possible from his famous last name.
Now, stuck near the back of the GOP pack and fighting for survival, the former Florida governor is calling in the cavalry — relatives and hundreds of others with long ties to the Bush clan who are gearing up to flood Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada in a push to get back into contention.
Bush World has done this before for his father, George H.W. Bush, and brother George W. Bush, but many participating this time feel a more urgent need to get out and help.
“If you did this for his dad and brother, you owe it to Jeb to do it for his candidacy,” said Husein Cumber, a Florida railroad executive who volunteered on Jeb Bush’s 1998 gubernatorial campaign and for George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential run. “Who better to go and campaign for him personally than those who know how to represent his conservative credentials?”
The Jeb Bush campaign formally requested help from longtime friends about a month ago. Aides are compiling lists of volunteers who sign up online using a form that asks them to pick which state they can visit and how long they can help. Volunteers are also asked whether they can pay their own way — many contacted in recent days said they will. But Federal Election Commission rules allow campaigns to cover basic expenses for volunteers, including meals and lodging.
The effort comes at a dire time for Bush, whose campaign and allied super PAC have spent tens of millions of dollars on his GOP presidential bid in a race being dominated by insurgents such as front-runner Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.).
Ahead of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary next month, the question is whether turning to Bush family and friends will help — or make things worse.
Many of his allies think pitching in is the only option. Alan Florez, who served as Bush’s gubernatorial traveling aide, planned to leave his home in Ormond Beach, Fla., early Friday and drive with friends five hours north to Charleston, S.C. There they would meet up with Cumber and George P. Bush — the candidate’s oldest son — and roughly 60 other out-of-state volunteers who plan to spend the weekend knocking on doors. “It’s frustrating to hear that sometimes the right story doesn’t get out,” he said.
Kathleen Shanahan, who served as Bush’s second gubernatorial chief of staff, said she plans to fly from her home in Tampa to New Hampshire for four consecutive weekends before the primary.
“I’m willing to make that sacrifice with no heartburn at all,” she said. “I’m happy to go.”
Cumber, Florez and Shanahan are part of a 600-plus-member alumni network of Floridians who volunteered for Bush’s gubernatorial campaigns or worked for him as governor.
“I’ve got a pretty fierce Jeb alumni group,” Bush boasted in an interview this week.
They are part of a cast of thousands with ties to the family — donors, former campaign and White House aides, even former Cabinet secretaries such as Michael Chertoff, George W. Bush’s former homeland security secretary, who campaigned with Jeb Bush in New Hampshire this week.
Brian McCormack, who worked for George W. Bush’s administration after serving as a traveling aide to Richard J. Cheney during the 2000 presidential campaign, has tapped his network to donate and volunteer for Jeb Bush despite no strong connection to the former governor. He is headed to South Carolina this weekend and is assigned to canvass in Laconia, N.H., next weekend.
“There’s thousands of people across the country who worked in either administration,” McCormack said. “That doesn’t mean that all of them are supporting Jeb. . . . We’re political folks, and this is the ultimate competition in this sport. This is the big game.”
Al Cardenas, one of Bush’s oldest friends from Miami, was part of the former governor’s “Orange Army” — a group of Florida volunteers who swarmed New Hampshire in 1988 to help Bush’s father recover after coming in third in the Iowa caucuses. They brought crates of oranges north to hand out to voters as they went door to door.
In 2000, similar volunteer trips by the Florida contingent had formal names. The journey to New Hampshire was dubbed “Freezin’ for a Reason.” For South Carolina: “Door to Door to Settle the Score.”
“It was a comedy routine,” said Ana Navarro, another Bush friend from Miami who volunteered in 2000. “Man, you had to love Jeb Bush and love the political process to leave Florida and go walk around Manchester in the thick of winter.”
Bush recalled that “it was half Cuban Americans from South Florida and half Anglo Republicans from central Florida. It was pretty crazy, actually — people who had never been in cold weather before.”
Bush and his friends repeated the trips to New Hampshire in 1992 (his dad won again that year) and in 2000 to help George W. Bush in New Hampshire (where he lost) and South Carolina (where he won).
Bushes have been duty-bound to campaign for each other from an early age. In his book “41: A Portrait of My Father,” George W. recalled George H.W.’s 1980 presidential campaign. “Our love for him was so powerful that it was easy for the family to go all in,” he wrote.
On the campaign trail now, voters often bring up Jeb Bush’s family. “I get asked all the time: ‘Well, are you like your brother? Are you like your dad? I know there’s a real fascination about this,’” Bush said in Londonderry, N.H., on Thursday. Then he joked, “Let me get this out of the way: I love my mother more than my dad.”
In the interview this week, Bush said that his own history with organizing and deploying campaign volunteers as a younger man means his team understands it must take full advantage of the free help. “We’ve got some experience on how to organize this so it’s not wasted energy,” he said.
Told about people such as Florez driving from Florida to help out, he said: “It’s heartwarming. It matters.”
Alice Crites contributed to this report.