Jeb Bush Tries To Stay Neutral At Georgia-South Carolina Game Republican Jeb Bush was the first presidential candidate to campaign at a big SEC football game this season — Georgia vs. South Carolina. But mixing football and politics in the South can be fraught.
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Jeb Bush Tries To Stay Neutral At Georgia-South Carolina Game

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Jeb Bush Tries To Stay Neutral At Georgia-South Carolina Game

Jeb Bush Tries To Stay Neutral At Georgia-South Carolina Game

Jeb Bush Tries To Stay Neutral At Georgia-South Carolina Game

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/441936803/441936804" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Republican Jeb Bush was the first presidential candidate to campaign at a big SEC football game this season — Georgia vs. South Carolina. But mixing football and politics in the South can be fraught.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Jeb Bush took his campaign down South yesterday, which meant college football. He watched the Georgia Bulldogs take on the South Carolina Gamecocks. The two schools are part of the SEC, the powerhouse football conference. The SEC is also the name of a new, big date on the 2016 primary calendar.

Several states in the South, including Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, will hold their contests on the same day in March. That day has been dubbed the SEC primary. It gives the South more influence in the presidential race, and it could draw more candidates to SEC football games, where they will be forced to navigate bitter rivalries and, yes, some rowdy fans. From Athens, Ga., Johnny Kauffman of member station WABE reports.

JOHNNY KAUFFMAN, BYLINE: On Saturdays, campuses around the South and the country fill with mobs of fans who drink, grill and get dehydrated for hours before they head into stadiums.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CROWD: Jeb, Jeb, Jeb, Jeb, Jeb, Jeb, Jeb, Jeb.

KAUFFMAN: When Jeb Bush arrived, the mob of fans was so thick, it took him nearly an hour to move the hundred feet to the podium where he delivered a quick stump speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEB BUSH: I'm going to be very brief 'cause I really like taking selfies. I don't know about you guys.

(CHEERING)

BUSH: I kind of got the - I got the drift here pretty quick.

(CHEERING)

KAUFFMAN: A mob of very sweaty, mostly Georgia students crowded the stage so tightly that after his short speech, Bush had trouble reaching them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BUSH: All right, back in the crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I want a selfie, selfie.

BUSH: Selfie, very important.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yes.

BUSH: Let me get - no, we're getting down. We're going down. That could be dangerous.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Hi, Jeb.

BUSH: Sorry, I just kneed you in the butt.

KAUFFMAN: Besides can I get a selfie, the crowd had one other question for Bush.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Jeb, are you a dog fan or a South Carolina fan?

BUSH: I'm predicting the dogs are going to go to the SEC...

(CHEERING)

BUSH: That's against Florida, too, so...

(CHEERING)

KAUFFMAN: Bush played the crowd and not only said the Georgia Bulldogs would beat South Carolina, he predicted against the Florida Gators, from the state where he was governor, and said Georgia would win the SEC eastern division and make it all the way to the conference championship. That prediction got Georgia senior Melody Alam excited.

MELODY ALAM: I got here just as he was leaving, so I didn't get a lot of interaction with him. But, like, I'm literally in love with Jeb.

KAUFFMAN: Alam said Jeb got her attention in last week's debate, and she thinks he's the most sensible.

ALAM: He just shows so often that he's, like, a man of the people, and I think that's so cool. He's so down to earth. He's like one of us, you know?

KAUFFMAN: And connecting to fans who they hope will show up to vote is the whole point. As the season goes on and the SEC primary approaches, we're likely to see more candidates fight through the crowds to tap into the energy of SEC football. For NPR News, I'm Johnny Kauffman in Athens, Ga.

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