Road Show

Want to know more about Jeb Bush? The machinations of Florida's Republican party? Vomiting? Get on the bus.

Bush has been writing a lot of checks lately, mostly for a series of television commercials scheduled to begin airing across Florida this week. The first spot deals exclusively with crime. Bush is nervous about how they will be received. Ed Kennedy, the Palm Beach Post photographer, tells him not to worry. He saw the ad around 4:30 in the morning and it seemed fine. Bush appears stunned. "Did you really see it at 4:30?" he asks. Definitely before 5:00 a.m., Kennedy says. "Four-thirty in the morning. Great, another goddamn conspiracy," Bush moans.

For the rest of the day and into the night, he will repeatedly ask members of his staff to find out who authorized buying media time in the middle of the night. "I probably am a hard person to work for," he allows. "I demand excellence. But I don't yell and I don't scream. And I don't like mistakes that can be avoided."

Today will not be a good day in that regard. Bush has four staffers traveling with him on this leg of the trip. He refers to them as his "gladiators for change." Cory Tilley is the 26-year-old press secretary who formerly worked as spokesman for the governor of Maine. More seasoned and less in awe of the campaign trail, he is a professed worrier. At one point he marvels that he doesn't yet have an ulcer, but the way he says it suggests he's actually disappointed. Tom DiNanno, who is also 26, has been with the campaign a few months and has the unenviable responsibility of driving the motor home. Brett Doster, 23 years old, is a recent graduate of the Citadel, the South Carolina military school recently forced by court order to accept women. Andy Feeney, also 23, is no relation to Tom Feeney, but when Andy, who also comes from Orlando, began seeing "Feeney" campaign signs around town a couple of years ago, he contacted Tom Feeney out of curiosity. That led to his volunteering at the state representative's district office, and now to being here on the road with him.

The problems start in the afternoon. Highlands County organizers for Bush's campaign, it seems, have drawn up a list of activities for the candidate's visit. But the statewide staff A including Tilley, DiNanno, Doster, and Andy Feeney A has its own agenda. As a result Bush keeps being told he needs to be in different places at the same time, which does not please him. Rather than show any displeasure with the county organizers, who are all volunteers and often major contributors, Bush keeps prodding his paid staff to get its act together. "Are we in sync yet?" he glares at DiNanno after arriving 30 minutes late for a rally.

"Yes, sir," DiNanno replies.
"Because you know we haven't been in sync," Bush continues.
In an effort to make up for the snafus, DiNanno and Doster line up another police station for Bush to tour. But the local county coordinator tells him they don't have time for the police station. "The county coordinator says we don't have time," Bush tells DiNanno. "What's going on?" DiNanno jumps out of the motor home for a quick meeting with the other staffers, and then returns to announce they've decided to cancel the police station and go wherever the county coordinator wants.

In truth the local volunteers have screwed up. All schedules are supposed to be cleared through campaign headquarters in Tallahassee, and this one wasn't. "We're getting rolled right now," Cory Tilley says as Bush wanders up and down the aisles of a Kash-N-Karry supermarket in Sebring at the county coordinator's request. "We didn't even know we were coming here until fifteen minutes ago. We're getting rolled by the county organizers and the candidate isn't happy."

What Bush needs is a good meal. What he needs is some swamp cabbage, an Okeechobee delicacy that combines boiled sabal palm cabbages with several pounds of bacon and sugar. Politically, most people wouldn't expect Okeechobee County to be a friendly place for someone like Bush. The overwhelming majority of registered voters here are Democrats, but they're "Southern Democrats," conservative as the day is long. More than 150 of them have turned out at a Grange hall, and although Bush is scheduled to make only brief remarks, the crowd has energized him. He gives the most rousing speech of the first three days, highlighted by near deafening applause when he says: "I love my dad dearly and I think he was a great president."

Although 90 percent of these people won't be able to vote for him in the primary because they are registered Democrats, Tom Feeney points out they'll be getting a nice consolation prize: "We'll probably pull out of that room $10,000, maybe $20,000, in campaign contributions this cycle and again in November."

After a three-hour drive north to Deltona, we arrive at the Best Western shortly before midnight. By the time I check in and get my room key, I learn the hotel bar has just closed. "Some advance work," I mutter to the front desk clerk. "And we're supposed to believe this man can run the whole damn state when he can't even find hotels with bars that stay open past midnight?" With bags and key in hand, I wander into the bar anyway. "We're closed!" shouts the woman behind the bar. I explain to her that I was hoping to get two double margaritas in plastic cups to take back to my room. She seems dubious. They're not even really for me, I tell her. "They're for Jeb Bush. You know, the president's son. He's running for governor," I explain, handing her a "Bush '94" button. "He can get mighty testy if he doesn't get his bedtime margarita." Between the button and the promise of a hefty tip, she finally relents.

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