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Bush Dynasty, Its Influence Fading, Pins Hopes on One Last Stand in Texas

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ARGYLE, Texas — His famous name shadows George P. Bush, the one member of the dynastic political clan now in public office, as he enters the ultimate days of an uphill campaign to unseat Texas’ attorney general.

To some Texans, the Bush family name is a badge of integrity, paying homage to a bygone era of rectitude and respectful political debate. To others, it’s the disqualifying mark of a Republican old guard that failed the party and betrayed its last president, Donald J. Trump.

Mr. Bush would love to make the campaign concerning the two-term Republican incumbent, Ken Paxton, whose serious legal troubles — including an indictment on securities fraud charges and a seamless federal corruption investigation — prompted high-profile Republicans to take him on in the first. Mr. Bush made it to a runoff with Mr. Paxton that takes place on Tuesday.

A number of years ago, Mr. Bush, whose mother is from Mexico and whose father was the governor of Florida, might need won the race handily, his aides imagine, after which been held up as a outstanding example of a latest, more diverse generation of Republicans.

But that was before the bottom shifted and his family spoke out publicly against Mr. Trump, in an unsuccessful effort to derail his bid for the presidency.

Mr. Bush broke together with his father (Jeb), his uncle (George W.) and his grandfather (George H.W.) and aligned himself with Mr. Trump and his followers. The trouble to distance himself from his relatives was captured in a campaign beer koozie that his campaign handed out last 12 months, quoting Mr. Trump: “That is the Bush that got it right. I like him,” it says, beneath a line drawing of Mr. Trump shaking Mr. Bush’s hand.

The trouble didn’t repay. Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. Paxton, who had filed lawsuits searching for to overturn the 2020 election and had appeared with Mr. Trump at his rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, before members of the gang stormed the Capitol.

Some Texans say the political obituary has already been written for the Bush family, and see Mr. Bush, who’s currently the state land commissioner, as its last flickering ember, with little of his forebears’ appeal.

“Daddy Bush was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful,” Carolyn Lightfoot, a member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, said of Mr. Bush’s grandfather. However the organization has criticized George P. Bush’s moves as land commissioner over his handling of the Alamo in San Antonio. Ms. Lightfoot said the Bush family and the party establishment were “attempting to stuff him down our throats due to his Latino heritage.”

For all that the family’s importance can have faded amongst Texas Republicans, Mr. Bush should still emerge victorious within the runoff. A poll this month had Mr. Paxton’s support at lower than 50 percent, and Mr. Bush trailing him by only a number of percentage points. Donors have pumped latest money into Mr. Bush’s campaign in the ultimate stretch, hoping to push him excessive.

Mr. Bush has tried to refine and goal his attacks on Mr. Paxton in recent weeks, after his campaign’s internal polling suggested that earlier efforts were hurting his own standing together with Mr. Paxton’s. And Mr. Bush has proudly invoked his family, each in a closing-message political ad and while chatting with audiences that may be unimpressed with the Bush name.

“It’s all about ethics,” Mr. Bush told a gathering of Republican women this month in Argyle, a town within the rapidly growing, largely Republican suburbs of Fort Price. “When people say the very last thing we want is one other Bush, my response is, that is precisely the time that we want a Bush.”

As he barnstorms the state, Mr. Bush, 46, is invariably asked about his relatives, told about some fond memory of them, or challenged to reiterate his loyalty to Mr. Trump.

After the event in Argyle, a person in a cowboy hat waited outside for Mr. Bush to emerge so he could confront the candidate.

“Would you support for president the Republican nominee, even whether it is Trump in 2024?” the person asked.

“Yeah, no, I might support him again,” Mr. Bush replied as he walked to his automotive, wearing black cowboy boots emblazoned with a White House seal and a reference to his uncle’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. “But we’ll see who comes out.”

At a Republican club event in Houston, held down the road from an apartment George W. Bush used to occupy in an area George H.W. Bush used to represent in Congress, George P. Bush delivered a speech attacking Democrats and Mr. Paxton. He promised to strengthen the state’s border with Mexico and to deal with Houston’s rising murder rate. He opened the ground to questions, but got a comment to start out.

“I enjoyed watching you talk, because to me, you could have all of the mannerisms of Governor Bush,” a person told him, to laughter within the room. “Your hands are identical to ‘Saturday Night Live.’”

One other attendee also made reference to his family. “I’ve heard people say that they’re not going to vote for you because they’re bored with the Bush dynasty,” said Doug Smith, a club member, echoing the views of some within the room. “How do you reply to those people?”

“I’ll never run away from being a Bush; I really like my family,” he said. A lot of the crowd applauded.

To live in Texas is to be exposed to the ubiquity of the Bushes, whose family name is borne by airports, roads and schools from Houston to Dallas to Midland. Each Bush presidents have their presidential libraries within the state. In Houston, there are even dog parks named for the canine companions of George P. Bush’s grandmother Barbara Bush, who died in 2018.

Exposed to a national highlight from a young age, Mr. Bush has been hearing about his brilliant political future for a long time. “The Republican convention is doubling as a dress rehearsal for a person Republicans speak about as an up-and-coming heir to the Bush legacy,” The Baltimore Sun wrote of him in 2000, referring to him as a “hunk” who could put “the eagerness in compassionate conservatism.”

But that isn’t the message Republicans need to hear now, Texas political consultants, donors and observers said.

“Every part was lining up to provide him the brass ring, however the party modified an excessive amount of,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science on the University of Houston. “The Republican base modified in such a quick way that many were left with out a chair when the music stopped. Bush is a fantastic example of that.”

Jay Zeidman, a longtime friend of Mr. Bush’s, said he believed that those shifts masked a dissatisfaction with the direction the party had taken. “There’s an absence of political courage on this state without delay due to Donald Trump,” he said. “I feel Americans and Texans are thirsty for some reversion back to what politics was.”

As he campaigns, Mr. Bush, who grew up in Florida, underscores his ties to Texas: Born in Houston, college at Rice University, a law profession within the state. In an interview, Mr. Bush said he understood the legacy of his family as something Texan, in addition to “quintessentially American and patriotic.”

“My role is to shut the injuries of the past,” Mr. Bush said. “What I give attention to are areas that I can control, and never give attention to the areas that I can’t control. Because that will be futile.”

Mr. Bush has staked out hard-line positions that appeal to Republican primary voters on issues just like the teaching of race and gender in schools. On immigration, he has urged Texas to formally invoke passages within the U.S. Structure referring to “invasion,” a step toward the state seizing war powers and a move that Mr. Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott have to this point avoided making. He has said there was “fraud and irregularity” within the 2020 election, though he didn’t imagine it modified the consequence.

He has challenged Mr. Paxton to debate him on issues, however the two haven’t shared a stage in the course of the campaign. Mr. Bush contrasts his willingness to field questions from reporters and from a wide range of audiences with Mr. Paxton’s practice of rarely holding news conferences or taking difficult questions.

Mr. Paxton’s campaign declined a request for an interview.

“Texas voters have made it clear that they’re sick and bored with the Bush family dynasty and their RINO establishment donors playing kingmaker in Texas politics,” said Kimi Hubbard, a Paxton campaign spokeswoman, using an acronym meaning “Republican in name only.”

Mr. Bush was careful in an interview with The Recent York Times to not query the shifts within the Republican Party which have made his run for office tougher. He said the concerns of party voters were largely similar to when he first ran for land commissioner within the 2014 election: “Concerns on my family, concerns on crime, border security.”

Have voters’ feelings concerning the Bush dynasty hurt him? “I wouldn’t say so,” he said. “I’ve won.”

A major variety of Republicans polled in Texas say they might not support Mr. Bush due to his family background. But his lineage isn’t simply a liability.

On this month’s poll by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler, people planning to vote in the first runoff for attorney general were asked what they liked about their chosen candidate. Certainly one of the highest aspects Mr. Paxton’s supporters mentioned was that he was not a Bush. But concerning the same share of Mr. Bush’s backers said they were drawn to him specifically because he was a Bush.

Mr. Bush has drawn financial support from his family’s network, including six-figure checks from some longtime Bush supporters and greater than $100,000 directly from his uncle George W. Bush, campaign finance records show.

Every week before the runoff, outside an early voting location in his grandfather’s old congressional district in Houston, Mr. Bush’s family name loomed large for Republican voters, each for and against.

“We support George P.,” said Julie Treadwell, 50, who had just voted together with her 18-year-old daughter. “We wish to get back to that,” she said of his family and what they represented to her: “Conservative Republicans which might be more even-keel and levelheaded.”

Darla Ryden, 59, who overheard Ms. Treadwell’s remarks, waited until she had walked away to her automotive before describing her own views, which she said were just the other.

“I used to be all for George Bush, daddy and son, but now I feel, with the Bushes, it’s more about power than it’s about people,” Ms. Ryden said. She voted for Mr. Paxton within the runoff and supported him in the primary round of the first as well, she said, despite “his own struggles.”

“The Bushes?” she added. “It’s done.”

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