BY LAURIE KELLMAN and GARY FINEOUT
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Former President George W. Bush is quietly helping boost Republican candidates in places where President Donald Trump has struggled. In so doing, the former two-term president is raising his profile, ever so slightly, in the national politics he eschewed for years.
On Wednesday, Bush held an event in Fort Worth, Texas, for Republican Rep. Will Hurd in a congressional district Trump lost in 2016. On Friday, Bush is set to appear in Florida, which Trump narrowly won, on behalf of Gov. Rick Scott in the state’s expensive Senate race.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who will also attend the Scott event, said in an email that his brother “is helping Senate candidates across the country.”
These events are a focal part of Bush’s re-emergence in national politics ahead before the Nov. 6 election that will help determine control of Congress.
Another former president, Barack Obama, also has come off the political sidelines for the upcoming midterms.
Both parties have much at stake. Democrats want to capitalize on Trump unpopularity and gain the 23 seats they need to regain a majority in the House and launch investigations of the administration and, potentially, impeachment hearings.
Republicans are increasingly concerned about their ability to fend off Democrats aiming to retake the Senate and win complete control of Congress.
The presence of Trump looms large over the elections. He has pledged to campaign as many days as possible to help Republicans defend their majorities, including in Texas, where Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is defending his seat against a strong challenge from Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
The president has demonstrated that with one tweet, he can sway the fortunes of Republicans who dare cross him. For Republican candidates in places where voters don’t love Trump, that puts them in uncomfortable positions.
So Bush is stepping in, officials in Washington, Florida and Texas said. Doing so could help with voters such as independents and women who want Congress to stay in Republican hands.
Florida’s GOP chairman, Blaise Ingoglia, said Bush will be a “plus” for Scott’s bid to defeat the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson.
Marc Short, Trump’s former legislative director and now a senior fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, said Bush and Trump “have more overlap than is often reported.” Both, for example, are fans of Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee whom Bush first put on the federal bench.
Short said Bush’s time away from politics heightens his appeal.
“I’m not going to attempt to gloss over the differences” between Trump and Bush, Short said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I think that there’s enormous respect for President Bush and the class act that he’s always been. I think he has significant appeal among not just donors but also voters.”
It’s not Bush’s first move back toward national politics.
Bush re-emerged with a message that echoed with politics at the Sept. 1 funeral of Arizona Sen. John McCain in Washington. The late senator had asked Bush and Obama to give eulogies.
Trump wasn’t invited to the service and his name was rarely mentioned in the speeches, but collectively the ceremony was seen as a rebuke by official Washington of his divisive approach to the presidency.
“John’s voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder: We are better than this. America is better than this,” Bush said from the pulpit of Washington National Cathedral.
The Bush family has long had a complicated relationship with Trump.
During the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Trump said Jeb Bush was “low energy” and argued that George W. Bush had failed to keep the nation safe after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Trump didn’t attend the funeral this year of Barbara Bush, the wife and mother of former presidents. First lady Melania Trump attended.
Both Hurd and Scott have tried to distance themselves from Trump.
A former CIA agent, Hurd criticized Trump in a New York Times op-ed in July after the president’s deferential news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin after their meeting in Helsinki. Trump, Hurd wrote, was guilty of a “failure to defend the United States intelligence community’s unanimous conclusions” that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.
“His standing idle on the world stage while a Russian dictator spouted lies confused many but should concern all Americans,” Hurd wrote. “By playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad.”
Trump urged Scott to run against Nelson, but Scott has publicly kept his distance from the president. In April, Scott skipped a Trump discussion of the tax-cut package in South Florida, heading out of state to raise money for his Senate campaign instead.
In late July, Scott traveled on Air Force One with the president when he visited Florida. But the governor skipped Trump’s campaign rally held in Tampa, opting instead to hold a fundraiser in nearby Clearwater.
The governor split with Trump over the administration’s policy of separating families at the border but did not sharply criticize the president. Instead, he sent a letter to federal authorities calling for an immediate end to the policy and demanded that state officials be told about children brought into Florida.
Kellman reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Rick Scott, who is running for the U.S. Senate, is still Florida’s governor.
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