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Jeb Bush Helps Out Tea Party Champion Paul LePage in Maine

June 19, 2013 - 6:00pm

As the battle for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination starts to shape up, the conventional wisdom dictates the GOP establishment and moderates will square off against conservatives and the tea party to determine who the candidate will be.

With his shots at U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and support of immigration reform, former Gov. Jeb Bush is squarely in the camp of the establishment, but that isnt stopping him from helping a tea party champion in major jeopardy of losing in 2014.

Maine Gov. Paul LePages team announced Wednesday that Bush would host a fundraiser for their candidate. Bush will be the headliner at a fundraising event for LePage in Kennebunkport, home of the Bush family compound at Walkers Point, on July 2. Its a high-end event, with LePages team asking for $2,000 per individual and $3,000 per couple to attend a private event with Bush and get photos taken with the former Florida governor. Expect to see more than a few Downeasters in Brooks Brothers and Vineyard Vines at the event.

Bush wont be the only establishment GOP figure at the event, as Maine Republicans try to rally behind their beleaguered governor. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, two of the leading Republican moderates in Washington in recent years, will be at the event. So will two Republicans who lost out to LePage in the 2010 primary: businessman Les Otten and former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin.

Polls show LePage is not popular and he can expect a tough battle in 2014 for a second term. Eliot Cutler, who lost to LePage by less than 2 percent in 2010, is back looking to make an independent gubernatorial bid. A strong crop of Maine Democrats, including former Gov. John Baldacci, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and former federal Small Business Administration Director Karen Mills, are also looking at running against LePage in 2014.

Bushs support will certainly help the governor raise funds for next year. But Florida's former chief executive also profits from helping LePage. By helping a favorite of the tea party movement, Bush can defuse some of the opposition he has encountered from those Republican voters unimpressed with his pedigree and support for immigration reform.

Bush also could have learned a lesson his father and brother learned the hard way. Across the border from Maine is New Hampshire, which holds the first presidential primary. With the backing of then-Gov. John Sununu, New Hampshire was a bastion of support for George H.W. Bush in 1988, giving him a much-needed victory over Bob Dole. But, in the White House, President Bush ignored New Hampshire to his own peril and, in 1992, Pat Buchanan embarrassed the incumbent with a strong showing in the Republican primary. Despite relying on Sununu support in 2000, George W. Bush was upended in New Hampshire by John McCain.

If Jeb Bush enters the 2016 presidential election, he will need to do well in New Hampshire and win over conservatives in that pivotal state. Supporting Maine's tea party governor who will face a close election could pay political dividends for the third Bush to jump into New Hampshire, this time in 2016.

Tallahassee freelance political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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