Barbara Bush could have been Jeb Bush’s ‘most powerful weapon’

Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (from left), accompanied by his wife Columba and his brother Marvin, waits to be introduced to speak at a town hall at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center in Columbia on Thursday.

COLUMBIA — Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush may have waited too long to call on his family’s support.

His brother, the former President George W. Bush, came in to South Carolina five days before the vote. Mom Barbara Bush will join her son on the trail Friday, but just a day before the polls open.

While Jeb Bush did have to contend with Iowa and New Hampshire, some say he should have started much earlier in South Carolina by trying to get better mileage out of his surrogates and the Bush family name.

“From the beginning I would have had Barbara Bush in South Carolina,” said College of Charleston political scientist Kendra Stewart. “She, I think, could be his most powerful weapon. But I don’t know if it can have much of an impact at this point.”

As far as bringing in the former president Monday to the North Charleston Convention Center, Stewart said the late campaign addition could provide an added boost, but it also may end up sending a mixed message.

“I think he’s in some ways worked to distance himself from his brother, so now that he’s trying to bring him back in it’s just not very effective,” Stewart.

Furman University political science professor Danielle Vinson said Jeb Bush appears to have come to terms with his role in a family that’s produced two presidents, but that he could have played that lineage better in a primary run that months ago was forecast to be extremely competitive.

Since his fourth-place showing in the New Hampshire primary, Vinson said there may have been a realization that “ ‘I’m part of this family and it’s better to embrace it than to run from it,’ ” she said.

Vinson added, “I think, probably, he’d be in better shape if he had done it sooner.”

Bush is coming in at fourth place in several polls of South Carolina Republicans, averaging about 10 percent of the vote, according to RealClearPolitics.com.

The Bush family historically has been very popular in South Carolina going back to patriarch George Bush, who won the state in primaries twice — in 1988 against Kansas Sen. Bob Dole and in 1992 against conservative pundit Pat Buchanan. Both wins carried the motto “South Carolina is Bush Country.”

Stewart said there was an attempt to revive that Bush Country legacy when George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, joined Jeb Bush in North Charleston but that she’d heard anecdotes that many people who attended Monday’s rally were not Jeb Bush supporters and instead were there to see his brother.

Both Stewart and Vinson said Jeb Bush needs to have a strong showing in Saturday’s Republican primary if he intends to continue in the race. Stewart said those chances were hurt when Gov. Nikki Haley endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

“I think the Bush family worked hard to get Haley’s endorsement, and a lot of people know that so that’s slightly damaging,” Stewart said.

Haley said she made her choice based on who she thought was best suited to change the country.

“Jeb is a dear friend,” she said. “And he has been a great mentor that has helped me along the way. This is not about picking friends. It’s about picking who you think can be the best president.”

Jeb Bush did play up his family ties with a new offering that drew a few hundred to a Columbia town hall Thursday afternoon — his wife, Columba, and youngest brother, Melvin, joined him.

Cynthia Roldan contributed to this report. Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.