Mar 13, 2015 3:23 AM

In New Hampshire, Bush finds a familiar state for his family

The Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) When former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush lays the groundwork for an all-but-certain White House bid in the state hosting the nation's first presidential primary, he will be confronting a mixed record of voting for members of his family.

Bush's busy weekend includes private meetings with party leaders and two public sessions with voters. New Hampshire plays prominently in his plans to win the GOP presidential nomination, but the state has a complicated history with his father and brother, each a former president.

"They've always been respected and a family that is thought to be close to New Hampshire," said former New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu, who served as George H.W. Bush's White House chief of staff.

That doesn't mean Sununu is a guaranteed backer of the younger Bush. "It is so early in the process," he said. "No one has started paying attention yet."

That is part of the reason Jeb Bush and others are heading to the state even before they are official candidates.

"It's as wide open as it's ever been," said Fergus Cullen, a former state GOP chairman who is slated to host Bush at his home on Friday evening. "I don't think anyone has the kind of advantage that would let anyone be called a front-runner."

George H.W. Bush lost the New Hampshire primary to Ronald Reagan in 1980 and lost the state in his 1992 re-election bid against Bill Clinton.

His son, George W. Bush, lost the primary to John McCain in 2000, then lost the state in 2004 to John Kerry but carried enough other states to win re-election.

The wins? George H.W. Bush carried New Hampshire's primary and general elections to win the presidency in 1988. He also beat back a primary challenge from Pat Buchanan in 1992. And George W. Bush beat Al Gore in the general election in 2000.

But Jeb Bush has not been to the state for political events since 2000, and he returns Friday anticipating serious questions about his candidacy among conservatives. For instance, he backs Common Core education standards and has angered tea party activists with his backing of an immigration overhaul proposal.

To help his all-but-certain presidential bid, Bush has been lining up operatives for his headquarters and to work for him in the early nominating states. Veteran strategist Rich Killion is heading Bush's New Hampshire organization, and he is bringing on board others, including a confidante to New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte and an aide to Scott Brown's unsuccessful bid to represent New Hampshire in the Senate.

Rob Varsalone, the Ayotte adviser, also was a leading aide in New Hampshire for President George W. Bush's re-election bid in 2004. He is expected to be a top official in the Jeb Bush campaign.

Bush plans to spend much of his visit in private meetings with party leaders and activists, aides said. It is a similar approach to the one he took last weekend during his trip to Iowa, another early nominating state.

He won't be alone in courting New Hampshire. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas are also visiting this weekend, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry visited earlier in the week.

Not surprisingly, they're all getting a thumbs down from New Hampshire Democrats, who have yet to see their party's presumptive favorite, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in their midst. "We've seen a lot of candidates come through New Hampshire already," said state Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley. "We're going to get to see four candidates who have governing records that are completely at odds with New Hampshire values."


Elliott reported from Washington.


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