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Jeb Bush to GOP presidential candidates: Reach out to Independents

by Christopher A. Guzman, published

As the next presidential primary contest approaches one week from today, Florida’s former governor and younger brother of President George W. Bush has a word of wisdom for the remaining four Republican presidential candidates. Without singling out anyone for harsh criticism or even endorsing a nominee ahead of the state’s critical contest, Jeb Bush says that the the Republicans should adjust their campaign tone if they want to win Independents.

“Candidates are making lasting impressions on voters, not just primary voters, in how they campaign,” he told Bloomberg News in an exclusive interview.  “You have to remember that in a state like Florida, independent voters will decide the election. You have to maintain your principles but have a broader appeal,” he said.

Data from the Florida Division of Elections in December 2011 shows that 20% of the Sunshine State’s voters don’t affiliate with a political party. In terms of those registered with the two main parties, 41% of the state’s voters affiliate with the Democratic Party and 36% with Republicans.  Interestingly enough, in terms of the state’s voters affiliating with Republicans and Democrats alone, it’s seemingly aligned with the percentage of those affiliated with each of the major parties at the national level.  Only 3% affiliate with a minor party in Florida.

In particular, former Governor Bush warned that the Republican candidates should tone down their rhetoric on issues like immigration. Given the general approach of the primary candidates on immigration policy, it’s the one keeping them from potentially reaching and tapping into the rich and essential minority voter demographic.

The last Republican candidate to resonate effectively with the Hispanic community was Jeb’s brother, former President George W. Bush. In 2004, he won a large share of them.

Immigration aside, however, Jeb Bush has a keen insight into Florida’s independent voters and their general election relevance. Bloomberg reports that President Obama won the state by 2.8 percentage points in 2008. Before that, President Bush won Florida by 5 percentage points in 2004 and by 537 votes in 2000. No doubt that winning the state’s independents is key to victory.

Independents are the fastest growing political demographic, more relevant today than they’ve ever been. They may look drastically different from Iowa to New Hampshire to Florida, but there’s certainly a reason why more of the electorate is shedding the two- party labels. Chances are, on top issues like the economy, people don’t want to hear that it’s the Republican way or nothing. The same would apply to the Democratic side.

Circumstances indicate that voters are tired of the same old partisan politics. They’re ready for solid solutions and not more rambling from the candidates about whose party team is better. Whatever one’s feelings may be when hearing the Bush family name mentioned, the younger Bush deserves credit for calling attention to the bigger picture of addressing the concerns of Independent voters.

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