MIAMI — Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Monday released his long-planned e-book, “Reply All,” a selection of email exchanges with everyday Floridians, journalists and others during his two terms as Florida governor.
Bush is unveiling his 730-page digital book as he attempts to reset a campaign hobbled by stagnant poll numbers, a fundraising slowdown and a poor debate performance.
On Monday, Bush officially begins his “Jeb Can Fix It” tour in Tampa. He then travels to Orlando and Jacksonville before heading off to the early primary states of South Carolina and New Hampshire. It could be viewed as the start of a comeback or the beginning of the collapse of his campaign.
The e-book covers his two terms as governor, 1999-2007, when he carried a Blackberry at all times, spending 25 to 30 hours a week emailing and responding to a diverse range of people through his public and personal email account. The Blackberry was included in Bush’s official portrait as governor.
Earlier this year, Bush released tens of thousands of those emails on a website to be more transparent in his quest for the White House.
Bush told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that the e-book is “really the essence of the servant leadership that I had as governor of this state.”
Since launching his campaign in June, Bush repeatedly pointed to his record and experience as governor to sell voters on why he should be the GOP’s next nominee.
The first chapter, “This is Exhilarating,” opens with his inaugural address on Jan. 5, 1999, and ends with a chapter titled “This Job Gives Me Great Joy!”
He shares and comments on emails he received during some critical times in office. It includes the saga of Elian Gonzalez, the five-year-old Cuban boy returned to Cuba and his father in 2000, more than a year after he was found clinging to an inner tube off the Florida coast when his mother and others fleeing Cuba drowned trying to reach U.S. soil. He wrote one constituent that the case “should not be looked at from a political perspective” but what’s in the child’s “best interest.”
In the case of Terri Schiavo, he wrote that “I knew in my heart I had done absolutely everything I could to save Terri.” The Florida woman was removed from life support in 2005 after spending more than a decade in what doctors described as a “persistent vegetative state.” Her husband wanted her feeding tube removed, arguing that she once told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially. But her parents disagreed and petitioned Bush for help.
On the 2000 presidential election recount, Bush wrote: “As governor I was somewhat embarrassed about how difficult the recount became. Who had ever heard of ‘hanging chads?’ ”
The razor-thin margin in Florida between his brother, George W. Bush, and Vice President Al Gore led to recounts and legal battles that ended in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Other email exchanges run the gamut to include conversations with then Yahoo CEO Terry Semel in 2001, praising a partnership with the state and then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner about false rumors that Walt Disney World was among the target of terrorists shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
More typical were emails with everyday Floridians like a woman complaining in 1999 about problems caused by tractor-trailers on I-75 and a man outraged in 2006 over the state’s skyrocketing homeowner insurance rates.
He also shared his mixed feelings on receiving an email from a 32-year-old black single mother who praised him at the end of his gubernatorial tenure but said she was unconvinced he cared about African-Americans.
“All people matter to me and I have tried as hard as I can to prove that,” Bush replied.
He also included email exchanges with current GOP rival and fellow Floridian Marco Rubio.
“I couldn’t resist ribbing my friend Marco Rubio just a little,” wrote Bush in a 2006 email when Rubio’s office responded to his email with an automated reply. Rubio was House Speaker at the time.
“Automated response!!! …,” Bush wrote back with 26 exclamation points.
Rubio wrote back: “Even the most innovative among us need time to make dramatic changes like getting rid of the auto response!”
In another email, Bush tells staff he needs a sword as a gift for Rubio as incoming House speaker. Rubio later displayed the silver sword with Bush standing behind him before state lawmakers.
Wrote Bush: “I wanted to present to him a Chinese sword, since I was known to say from time to time, ‘I am going to unleash Chang.’ This meant I wanted to unleash a mythical power for conservative causes.”
In the final chapter, Bush rejects talk of a Bush dynasty in an email to the conservative Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes and said: “I am not big on talking about dynasties because I don’t think they reflect the service of my granddad, father and brother’s public service. It is not the motivating factor,” he wrote. “It is not who we are.”
SERGIO BUSTOS, Associated Press