Every presidential candidate tells a tale of overcoming adversity, and Jeb Bush’s could begin like this: All his life, he has struggled to overcome his New England roots.
Northeastern ties aren’t especially helpful in a Republican Party that for decades has been strongest in the South. The Northeast is the land of liberal Kennedys.
But the Bushes may be the more electorally successful New England political dynasty. They have succeeded in part by connecting with voters south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor announcing his presidential run today, is blessed with one political advantage over his father and brother: He was born in Texas.
George W. Bush, born in New Haven, Connecticut, bought the Texas ranch that earned him his cowboy reputation just one year before being elected president. Some say his West Texas accent seemed thicker in 2000 than it was when he faced Ann Richards in a gubernatorial debate in 1994.
His father, the family’s first president, George H.W. Bush, was born in Milton, Massachusetts. The Bushes attended elite New England schools such as Phillips Academy, Harvard, and Yale. The family compound is in Kennebunkport, Maine.
But no one in the family acts like a proud New Englander.
“You often see in politics people very proudly pointing to their roots or family history in a location,’’ James Gimpel, a professor of political science at University of Maryland, told Boston.com. “If you can say you are like the people in your audience, it establishes trust. You might be like them in some way and work for them.’’
The Bushes have been undeniably more fortunate than the Kennedy family, who are often described as cursed. The Kennedy record is one of triumph and tragedy. The Bushes have enjoyed mostly triumphs.
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The family has produced two presidents, a vice president, one senator, one state representative, one CIA director, and two governors. (Some have filled more than one role.) Until George W. Bush, not since John Adams and John Quincy Adams had a father and son served as presidents. No president has spawned two presidential offspring.
The Bush dynasty began with Connecticut Sen. Prescott Bush, once deemed a “New England WASP’’ by The New York Times. He graduated from St. George’s Preparatory School of Newport, Rhode Island, then attended Yale. He served in World War I and afterward became president of South Braintree’s Stedman Products.
“Personally, I never thought of [George H.W.] Bush as other than a Yalie patrician,’’ Harvard University Professor of Government James Alt told Boston.com. “His dad a senator from Connecticut and Wall Street.’’
Prescott Bush moved his family to Greenwich, Connecticut, to become a Wall Street banker. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1952 and served for a decade.
His son George, now 91, attended Phillips Academy in Andover, the same school Jeb Bush and John F. Kennedy Jr. attended in the 1970s. George H.W. attended Yale, just like his father did. He moved his family to West Texas in 1948, and Jeb was born there in 1953. He became a congressman, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and vice president.
George H.W. Bush was elected to the presidency in 1988 over then-governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis. Bush portrayed his opponent as an out-of-touch, soft-on-crime liberal.
The Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port may be more famous. But during the first Bush presidency, his family getaway in Kennebunkport, Maine, earned a reputation as the “Summer White House’’. The nine-bedroom central house, situated on Walker’s Point, has hosted meetings with world leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Vladimir Putin.
In retirement, the eldest Bush has shown a streak of adventurism: Note his birthday sky-diving.
The next Bush president, George W., moved with his parents to Texas soon after he was born in Connecticut in 1946. He attended Phillips Academy and Yale, then Harvard, which is also home to the John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Like his brother and father, Jeb has rejected the politics associated with New England, but he attended the region’s schools. He admitted to The Boston Globe that he smoked marijuana at Andover, but disputed accusations that he bullied other students.
Of course, there is one part of New England every presidential candidate professes to love, because the first presidential primary is in New Hampshire. Even if Jeb Bush rarely mentions his New England ties in other states, don’t be surprised if he plays them up in the Granite State.
The Phillips Academy motto, after all, is fins origine pendet: “The end depends on the beginning.’’