Longform

Road Show

Page 7 of 13

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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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede