Longform

Road Show

Page 10 of 13

Other members of the Florida Bush campaign paint a picture of intense sibling rivalry. "Cain and Abel," Alex Castellanos muses. "This is a very competitive family." George owns the Texas Rangers baseball team. Jeb recently bought a piece of the new NFL franchise Jacksonville Jaguars. Both are aggressively successful businessmen. And now they both seek political office. Some members of the campaign say that when George, who is five years older than Jeb, began campaigning, he appropriated much of the research Jeb had accumulated in Florida and adapted it to his own needs in Texas. Castellanos sees Jeb as the idealist in the family and George as the more politically astute, win-at-all-costs heir to the Bush mantle. Jeb doesn't want to talk about it.

FRIDAY
During a morning interview with a pair of zany DJs on a Melbourne radio station, Bush is finally asked a question he hasn't been asked before. If he becomes governor, and recently indicted boxing promoter Don King is convicted, would Bush consider granting King a pardon? "I don't think so," the candidate says. "I would have freed James Brown, though."

That Bush might identify with the Godfather of Soul is probably not surprising. Indeed there are those on his campaign staff who see him as a Republican rocker. "He has that rock-star kind of feel," Cory Tilley says earnestly, noting several young men and women who have tracked Bush from the speech he made after the radio show to a bowling alley on the outskirts of Melbourne. "What other candidates would have people following them like this?"

Perhaps a better question is: What other candidate would tour a bowling alley at ten o'clock on a Friday morning?

"Jeb, roll my ball," one elderly man pleads, his voice cracking with emotion, as Bush walks by.

"Oh, I don't have the right shoes," Bush answers and moves quickly away from him. Bush realizes that the bowling alley -- like any athletic endeavor -- is a potential mine field for a candidate. What if he throws a gutter ball or -- perish the thought -- slips and lands on his ass? In a political age in which symbols are often more important than words or ideas, nobody wants to hand an opponent a metaphor for their own failings or inadequacies. (Remember Michael Dukakis's little ride in a tank?)

So Bush moves through the crowd as quickly as possible. "Roll one, Jeb," another man calls out. Bush plays dumb, smiles, and keeps moving. But there are certain rules in politics that cannot be ignored. One of them is this: You never bite the hand that feeds your campaign. So when Joseph Fraumeni, owner of the alley and an important contributor, tells Bush he'd like the honor of bowling a frame with the next governor of the State of Florida, there is only one thing Bush can say: "Size twelve."

As Fraumeni runs to get Bush a pair of shoes, the camera crew that had been hanging on Bush's every move this morning begins to set up for the bowling shot. But before they can get into place, Alex Castellanos steps in. No film, he tells them.

Sliding into the multicolored bowling shoes, Bush is tense. "These shoes have been here a while," he says, forcing a smile. He picks out a ball and follows Fraumeni to the lane of honor. Photographers scurry down the gutters so they can face Bush and capture the moment. He raises the ball to his chin, takes three large steps, and lets it fly. The ball moves dangerously close to the right gutter before slamming into two pins. "The two on the far right," Castellanos says, making a little political joke. Bush gets a fresh set of pins for his second ball, which plows straight down the middle of the lane, shattering everything in its path for a strike. He decides to quit while he's ahead, and sits right down to take off his shoes. "Did you see that strike?" he asks, smiling. "There are a lot of bowlers out there who vote."

Tom Feeney then proceeds to knock down the same two pins Bush had nailed with his first ball. But rather than resetting the pins, Feeney will try to pick up the spare A as good a job description as any for the lieutenant governor. However, he knocks only one more pin off the right edge of the set. "It's my role to make sure we stay to the right," he laughs.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede