After a campaign flub earlier in the week, Gov. Jeb Bush visited USF Thursday, intent on looking good when leaving Hillsborough County.
Bush is in a battle for the governorship in November, and it is evident he is in for the long haul. His May 13 stop at Wimauma Elementary school, however, left a sour taste in more than a few mouths, including school officials. Many schools in Hillsborough County have strict rules against campaigning on school grounds. Although Bush officials insist it was a visit for “Governor” Bush and not “Candidate” Bush, it’s evident there was more involved, just as there was during his USF visit.
Wimauma is a school comprised of mostly Spanish-speaking students. The Hispanic vote is considered by many political analysts to be the swing vote come November, and Bush is determined to win it. The convenience of Bush’s visit to Wimauma is suspect. While Bush maintains the visit was just that, it was paid for and set up by his campaign staff. School officials asked repeatedly whether the visit would be political in nature, and the staff assured them it was purely part of his gubernatorial duties. The Wimauma visit turned out to be just an opportunity for Bush to exercise his Spanish and take photos with children.
Bush’s subsequent visit to USF just two days later was a strategic move to redirect the bad press he received. His visit was announced Wednesday afternoon after both The Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times ran stories lambasting Bush’s Wimauma visit.
Bush’s visit to USF was a PR stunt that served its purpose well – his education bill signing went off without a hitch and was well-received. However, Bush must be really worried if he thinks a university known for its shady reputation following Sept. 11 will salvage his image.
Bush will do well if he separates his actual duties as governor from those of a candidate. Florida and Hillsborough County will be all that much better off when he realizes the difference.