Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Newt Gingrich, with a strong and affable appearance on “Meet the Press” Sunday in the books, is now on a major campaign swing through Iowa — one that includes a 4 p.m. stop Thursday at the Santa Maria Winery in Carroll. The Georgia Republican, and former U.S. Speaker of the House, is amassing an Iowa staff. Word is Carroll High School alum Katie Koberg is on board with Team Newt 2012.

Meanwhile, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is building his staff for Iowa. Texas Congressman Ron Paul, an iconoclastic libertarian, has announced that he’s in the GOP race for the White House.  We can expect U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., an Iowa native and ally of Congressman Steve King, to enter, filling some of the void left by 2008 Republican Iowa caucuses winner Mike Huckabee, who said over the weekend he was a no-go for 2012.

But with three months until the GOP’s Iowa Straw Poll in Ames there is more than enough time for a powerful pol to enter the race. The one with a fighting chance to challenge President Obama: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a son and brother of former presidents.

Jeb Bush repeatedly has said he won’t run in 2012 — as recently as Friday in Dallas.

It’s easy to dismiss the former governor of Florida because of his last name.

But not so fast.

Bush isn’t a four-letter word in a political sense with the GOP base in Iowa.

While Bush may tap into nostalgia (remember we’re talking the base here, western Iowa Republicans) and be able to pull dynastic strings, there are concerns. Chief among them is a record that has its less-than- conservative elements. Some GOP voters in Iowa may be put off by that.

But Jeb Bush not only has governing credentials, and the obvious heft of a family name, but ideas as well. In a recent issue of Esquire magazine, Bush granted a remarkable interview to Tucker Carlson, albeit a friendly interrogator. In that story Jeb Bush makes the case that the Democrats and Obama won on tactics, that there’s “no seismic shift.”

Bush provides a withering and succinct criticism of Obama on cap and trade and health care. And he doesn’t sound like an apologist for his brother.

Married for more than 30 years to a Latina he met in Mexico City while studying, Jeb Bush is perhaps the Republican best-suited to reach out to Hispanic voters, a demographic the GOP needs a healthy chunk of if the party is to avoid the way of the Whigs and survive into future generations.

He can bring more states into play and literally save the Republican Party from itself with Hispanic voters who are one election away from being lost to the GOP for a generation. This is reason enough for Bush to run in 2012.

Jeb Bush gets points for the best denial of presidential ambition I’ve heard from the potential field.

“Frankly, I don’t wake up each day assuming I’m the solution to life’s problems,” Bush told Esquire.

Family redemption is an awfully big motivation, though. And in Bush, who remarkably is just 58, Republicans may see a political figure with the gravitas to stand up to President Obama. And by time the caucuses roll around in 2012, the desire to defeat Obama is likely to surpass fascination with what are arguably novelty acts like Bachmann (who one GOP insider tells me will win the Iowa caucuses), throwbacks (Gingrich) and underwhelming personalities (at least at this point in Pawlenty).

Jeb Bush disagrees with such an assessment, pointing to history and the emergence of Bill Clinton from a pack of Democrats who closely resembled the assembled Republicans of 2012 so far.

“I remember in ‘92 at this time, my dad had an 80 percent approval rating,” Bush said, reported the Dallas Morning News. “There were the seven dwarfs. And one of the dwarfs went on to be president. You just don’t know until you get a little closer.”

There is much conventional thinking that the GOP nomination is not worth having in 2012, that Jeb Bush and other strong candidates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are wise wait to for an open playing field in 2016.

Right now that appears to be where Jeb Bush is. But the door remains cracked, and the former Florida governor is positioned to enter the race late, build a campaign quickly and win the nomination.

Because it is worth having.