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Jeb Bush tells graduating Grove City students to rise up through hard work

| Saturday, May 17, 2014, 11:53 a.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Former Florida governor and potential GOP candidate for president Jeb Bush addresses graduating students of Grove City College during commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 17, 2014.

On an overcast spring morning, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told 585 graduating Grove City College students on Saturday that the future depends on creating a country where hard work makes a difference.

“It's time now for us to be bolder, to sunset the obsolete rules that exist so the next generation can truly rise up,” Bush said.

Bush, said to be considering a run in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, delivered the keynote address at the school's commencement ceremony. College officials said it was the only graduation speech he would give this season.

In late April, Bush said he was considering a primary bid, and he has yet to shut down further speculation. His stop at Grove City — a private school affiliated with the Presbyterian Church that refuses federal aid, and where his sister-in-law, former first lady Laura Bush, delivered the commencement speech three years ago — suggests a way to raise his profile in the run-up to 2016.

Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University, said there is no question Bush is testing the water, noting recent, bold statements on immigration laws.

“Every opportunity to get visibility and have people talk and write about you is important,” Schmidt said.

In a 14-minute address, “America's Promise in Uncertain Times,” Bush said dwindling economic mobility is among the nation's greatest challenges.

“This is where the next generation of American leaders have a huge role to play,” he said. “There are ways to give opportunity to those who have been denied it.”

Bush called for closing education achievement gaps across economic and racial demographics. He proposed fixing the nation's “failing immigration system” with compassionate and pragmatic policy. And he called faith and family the keys to a life of purpose, urging students to adhere to their beliefs.

“This may seem a little challenging today, where we have a federal government that has willingly violated religious freedom of its citizens, but we don't have to accept it,” he said.

Bush served as governor of Florida from 1999 through 2007, while his older brother, President George W. Bush, was in office from 2000 through 2008. Their father, President George H.W. Bush, lost re-election to President Bill Clinton in 1992.

The open-seat 2016 primary could include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Schmidt said Bush has pending invitations for visits in Iowa, which hosts the nation's first presidential primary caucus, and that Iowa Gov. Terry Brandstad soon would attend a Bush fundraiser in Florida.

Bruce Haynes, president of bipartisan public affairs firm Purple Strategies in Washington, said that at this stage, could-be candidates travel the country, meet with donors and gauge potential support. Bush, along with Christie, are two candidates who could “put up a tent big enough to get everyone under,” Haynes said. But Christie's prominence could wane, Haynes said, because of a scandal that arose over lane closings on the George Washington Bridge, which critics have charged was politically motivated.

One problem for Bush is the same facing the potential Democratic front-runner: former Secretary of State, senator from New York and first lady Hillary Clinton.

“Ultimately, the biggest issue that confronts them is: Is America ready for another president with those last names?” Haynes said.

Candidates likely won't start declaring intentions to run until after the midterm elections this fall, he said. Bush likely could wait longer than others, though, as his establishment ties and widespread name recognition would pull strong fundraising.

Even then, primaries are marathons, Haynes said. Successful candidates are like racehorses, he said, that do not tire before the finish line.

“It's easy to be exciting for 15 minutes,” he said. “It's hard to be relevant for 15 months.”

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or mdaniels@tribweb.com.

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