George P. Bush Steps Into Texas Political Limelight

George P. Bush is expected to win Tuesday's GOP primary for land commissioner. Ben Phillpott of KUT brings the story of the young Bush's low-key campaign and outreach to Hispanic voters.

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Texans are voting today in the first primary of the 2014 campaign season. The race for Texas governor has been drawing national attention and Democrats hope to make a dent this year, after two decades of a Republican grip on all statewide offices. But take a look at the Texas ballot and a familiar political name jumps out.

From NPR member station KUT in Austin, here's Ben Philpott.

BEN PHILPOTT, BYLINE: The race in the GOP primary for Texas Land Commissioner appears to just be another regular Republican battle - the Tea Party candidate versus the establishment Republican. But unlike other Republican primaries, the establishment candidate is expected to easily win.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

GEORGE P. BUSH: Hi. I'm George P. Bush, and I'm running for Texas Land Commissioner.

PHILPOTT: That name does ring a bell.

PRESIDENT GEORGE H. W. BUSH: I, George Herbert Walker Bush...

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear...

H.W. BUSH: That I will faithfully execute the office of...

W. BUSH: ...President of the United States...

PHILPOTT: Oh, right. George P. Bush, or just George to his friends, is the grandson and nephew of those former presidents, and son of former Florida governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush. And he's no stranger to the political spotlight himself. He made his first appearance at a national GOP convention in 1988 when he was 12.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

P. BUSH: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

PHILPOTT: He was back in 2000 with an actual speech and a larger role as Hispanic ambassador.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

P. BUSH: We can do that by electing my uncle the next president of the United States. (Foreign language spoken)

PHILPOTT: And ever since that speech, George P. Bush has been on the radar of the Republican Party machinery. Former state lawmaker Aaron Pena told Bush at a dinner party several years ago it was fate.

AARON PENA: You come from a very prominent American family and yet you are Hispanic, who speaks Spanish. I said, you have been chosen by providence. You have no choice in the matter.

PHILPOTT: Bush's decision to run now comes at a crucial time for Texas Republicans. While the party has had a two-decade stranglehold on state government, it continues to struggle with its Hispanic outreach efforts. Cal Jillson is a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

CAL JILLSON: The Republican Party's domination in Texas cannot continue beyond another decade or so, unless they begin to win more than the traditional one-third of the Hispanic vote.

PHILPOTT: And Bush, whose mother is Hispanic, has been seen by many as the link to connect conservative Hispanics with the GOP - a much needed link as GOP primaries in Texas continue to include harsh anti-immigrant language. Again, Aaron Pena.

PENA: You know, you hear the scary sounds in the commercial and people are going to come hurt you and there are diseases that could potentially come into our community. That sort of discussion as opposed to what I see with Mr. Bush, dramatically different.

PHILPOTT: In fact, Bush's campaign has been completely different from just about every other Republican candidate's. Instead of the boilerplate lines of repealing Obamacare and militarizing the border, Bush focuses on Texas veterans and public schools.

P. BUSH: We need to raise standards so that a high school degree means exactly what it says it does - that you're ready to take on post-secondary levels of education.

PHILPOTT: That's Bush from a speech last April. Since then, he stayed out of the limelight because, despite his long political pedigree, it's still his first race. Again, SMU's Cal Jillson.

JILLSON: He's campaigned in small town and mid-city size Texas and stayed pretty much away from the media because he wants to get his campaign legs under him.

PHILPOTT: But Bush hasn't needed to do much more so far. By tomorrow, he's expected to be the GOP nominee, which, in Texas, makes him the favorite to become Land Commissioner in November. For NPR News, I'm Ben Philpott in Austin.

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