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Bush calls Buffalo fundraising visit ‘great’

When reporters watched an SUV ferry Jeb Bush from his Atrium @ Rich’s fundraiser Tuesday, they didn’t exactly get much detail about his budding presidential campaign.

“It was a great visit,” is all the former Florida governor was willing to share as he glided onto Niagara Street.

That’s because his first-ever trip to Buffalo was all about the money – approximately $200,000 that a source familiar with the fundraising said was collected from people paying $2,700 each to have breakfast with Bush. Though relatively small by national standards, local sponsors feel encouraged by the effort.

“It was intimate by design, and we’re thrilled,” said one of those familiar with its planning. “It’s early, we only had a couple of weeks to plan it, and it’s a crowded field. So it’s a strong number.”

But many now ask why the man most observers consider the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 would try to avoid cameras (don’t politicians like their picture in the newspaper and on TV?). Other GOP sources say it’s all by design, explaining that a string of recent Republicans raising money in Buffalo have avoided reporters to discourage any image of catering to fat cats.

“They just don’t want to be associated with that,” said one knowledgeable Republican.

Still, those attending the session say they came away impressed by more than Bush’s fundraising prowess. Larry Quinn, the Buffalo School Board member who is a Democrat, said he believed he was the only one of his party present among the 65 or 70 attending.

“My grandfather is probably rolling in his grave,” he said.

But Quinn and others said they were most impressed by Bush’s views on education, a hallmark of his Tallahassee tenure. When he was governor, Florida implemented laws that lowered class sizes, heightened school accountability, instituted universal prekindergarten and funneled resources into early literacy. Florida also developed one of the country’s most aggressive systems of holding schools accountable for student performance, and he supported policies allowing for charter school expansion and vouchers for students to attend private schools.

Quinn said he spent a few minutes discussing education with Bush, and endorsed the candidate’s views on early literacy and other aspects of early childhood education as keys to success.

“I agreed with everything he said,” Quinn said. “He’s right on it.”

Quinn added that he believes Bush can appeal to Democrats like him because he was not “exclusionary” and evoked memories of John F. Kennedy. “He seemed like a new kind of Republican to me,” he said.

Others like Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo, who has not endorsed any candidate yet, were also impressed. He agreed that the former governor worked hard to “show people who he is, what he is, and that Republicans have a broader tent.”

“He wanted to show that he’s a great admirer of that kind of conservatism – open and inclusive,” he said.

Lorigo also said Bush predicted he will win at least three early primaries. Lorigo also said he views Bush as excelling in the background efforts needed to be elected – such as Tuesday’s fundraising event.

“There’s no question this guy has the best organization and the money,” he said. “The question is whether Republicans go back to an old, rich white man. We need someone different from that.”

Bush arrived in Buffalo on Tuesday as local GOP factions are lining up behind various candidates. Several local businessmen with fundraising experience – Anthony H. Gioia, Patrick P. Lee and Mark E. Hamister – are arranging an Aug. 25 event for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy is expected to back Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker sometime in July, while others are sympathetic to former Gov. George E. Pataki.

Rich Products Chairman Robert E. Rich Jr. and his wife, Vice Chairwoman Melinda R. Rich, who hosted the event Tuesday, would not comment. Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, did not return a phone call seeking reaction.

Others involved in organizing the event included former Rep. Bill Paxon, County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs, and businessmen Gerald A. Bucheit, Paul J. Harder, Jonathan A. Dandes, Kent Frey, John Yurtchuk, Nick Sinatra, Jay Stott and Jeffrey Williams.

News Staff Reporter Tiffany Lankes contributed to this report. email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com