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Jeb Bush working to reassert conservative credentials

February 27, 2015

OXON HILL, Maryland (AP) — Jeb Bush was among the most conservative U.S. governors when he served as Florida’s chief executive. He’s now quietly embarking on work to convince the right-flank of the Republican Party he’d be that same kind of conservative in the White House.

Eight years removed from office, Bush is viewed by some conservatives as a squishy moderate. They dislike his positions on immigration and education standards. But as the son and brother of U.S. presidents, he is a member of the Republicans’ most established family.

For that reason, perhaps none of the likely 2016 candidates for president has more to gain this week than Bush at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the largest annual conference of U.S. conservative activists.

“The challenge for him is this isn’t about yesterday, it’s about tomorrow,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC. “The key is, what will he do if he’s president of the United States, and does he have a message that will appeal to conservatives?”

The Republican race is wide open with polls showing the leading potential candidates, including Bush, separated only by a few percentage points. On the Democratic side, Hillary Rodham Clinton has a commanding lead over other potential candidates, according to polls.

Bush speaks at CPAC on Friday, and amid his aggressive fundraising efforts nationwide, his team and key backers are also taking steps to remind the party of his history as a conservative in office.

Aides say that while in office from 1999 to 2007, Bush was among the first state executives to take on teachers unions, lowered taxes each year and signed Florida’s “stand your ground” gun law. He was a hero among social conservatives for his actions to keep Michael Schiavo from removing the feeding tube from his brain-damaged wife, Terri.

Today’s criticism centers almost entirely on Bush’s support for Common Core education standards and an immigration policy that would create a path to citizenship for people living in the country illegally, in addition to lingering resentment over the rise in government spending during brother George W. Bush’s administration.

Skeptics were reminded of their misgivings late last year, when Bush said a Republican might need to “lose the primary to win the general,” viewed by some as a swipe at the heavy influence of conservatives in picking the party’s White House nominee.

Just four in 10 self-identified conservatives and tea party supporters rated Bush favorably in an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted earlier this month. There was evidence, too, of anti-Bush sentiment in the crowded hotel lobbies Thursday as thousands of activists gathered for CPAC.

“I have not seen a single Jeb Bush button here,” said Neil McGettigan, 25, of New Jersey. “Honestly, I think the media’s more excited about him than anyone here.”

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Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and AP news survey specialist Emily Swanson contributed to this report from Washington. Beaumont reported from Palm Beach, Florida.

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Follow Steve Peoples and Thomas Beaumont on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/sppeoples and http://twitter.com/tombeaumont

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