The Sons Also Rise

To everyone's surprise except their dad's, the Bush brothers are real contenders in Texas and Florida

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"That young Bush boy, you know, the former President's son? He talks a good game, but has he ever done anything? . . . Every business he has ever been involved with had to be bailed out by his daddy's friends. Seems like he always gets to start at the top."

The boy in question is George W. Bush, 48, Republican candidate for Governor of Texas. The text -- part of a recent political ad -- is the handiwork of the campaign staff of incumbent Governor Ann Richards, who gained notoriety at the 1988 Democratic Convention when she said President Bush had been "born with a silver foot in his mouth." Though the ad is not entirely true, it neatly summarizes the problem facing George W. and his younger brother Jeb, 41, who last week became the Republican nominee for Governor of Florida. In their campaigns for public office they are clearly -- and unapologetically -- riding Dad's coattails in states that he carried in both 1988 and 1992; they are also struggling mightily to convince voters that they are strong politicians in their own right.

Against considerable odds, they are succeeding. In Florida's Republican primary Sept. 8, Jeb polled 46%, 10 points higher than anyone had predicted, in a tough field of six candidates. Last week the rival candidate in a runoff decided to withdraw, leaving Jeb as the party's nominee. In a poll taken several weeks before the primary, he had pulled to within 3 percentage points of incumbent Governor Lawton Chiles. In Texas the most recent poll showed young George leading Ann Richards by a point, in spite of her enormous popularity and 60% job-approval rating.

As political animals, the Bush brothers are strikingly similar. Both cut their teeth in Dad's campaigns; both are flush with money gathered with the help of the decades-old Bush fund-raising apparatus that covers all 50 states; both use operatives from their father's previous campaigns. On the issues their campaigns are virtual carbon copies. They consider the No. 1 issue to be crime, especially juvenile crime. They call for longer sentences and expansion of their states' overcrowded jails. They champion the right of local communities to run their own school systems. They say welfare should be cut off after two years; they oppose gay rights, and abortion in most cases. They favor the death penalty. Their basic message: reduce the size and influence of government.

The common Bush traits extend to their personal life as well. The brothers were itching to run for office in the 1980s but were counseled by their parents to, in effect, make something of themselves before running. They complied. George W. made his first million in the oil business and in 1989 became managing partner of the Texas Rangers; Jeb made his first million in real estate and recently became a partner in the Jacksonville Jaguars, a new N.F.L. franchise. Though they come from a family of certified New England blue bloods, they are Texas boys by upbringing and have few lingering ties to the snobby Episcopalianism of Greenwich, Connecticut, where their father grew up.

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