Jeb Bush dropped into Buffalo for his first-ever visit on Tuesday, and we won’t know at least for a while what he thought of the place.
The former Florida governor offered only one hint after collecting about $200,000 for his newly minted presidential campaign at the Rich Atrium on Niagara Street.
“It was a great visit,” he said.
We guess he had a good time. A couple of hundred grand will do that for you.
But the man many consider the leading contender for the Republican nomination offered nothing else to anyone who didn’t pony up $2,700 to join him for breakfast.
We didn’t hear, for example, his thoughts on the problems of public education plaguing Buffalo. That’s unfortunate. Bolstering public education proved his passion as governor and will hold a special place on his newest agenda, too.
We learned little about his plans for struggling cities. While this town has noted lots of progress in recent years, it remains among the nation’s poorest. Poverty is still a problem, and will be for a while.
That’s also too bad because Buffalo has benefited from extra government attention in economic development. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recognized early in his administration that good things could result from a program called the Buffalo Billion. He now points to several projects with significant progress, and it has made good politics for him, too.
And while the contributing faithful heard Bush expound on America’s place in the world, the rest of Buffalo got a wave from the SUV.
It all raises real questions about why someone running for president wouldn’t want his picture in the paper and on TV. Isn’t that what pols do?
We won’t get too carried away with this line of thought. To be fair, the candidate’s staff explained he had no time on his schedule and could barely squeeze in the SUV wave. OK. And they promise he’ll be back and have more to say in the future. OK again.
But crafting an image also lies behind the wave. It’s a difficult balancing act for any politician to collect as much campaign cash as possible and still avoid the “hobnobbing with fat cats” label. That’s especially true for someone as establishment, as Republican and as “Bush” as Jeb Bush.
“They just don’t want to be associated with that,” The Buffalo News quoted one knowledgeable Republican last week following the Bush fundraiser.
Local money affairs – especially of the GOP variety – have produced the same frustration for years. Photographer Sharon Cantillon of The News struggled to catch Mitt Romney climbing into an SUV during his 2012 fundraising trip to Buffalo. Romney wanted no part of it.
Rudy Giuliani’s staff never even returned phone calls when he was raising money for a 2008 presidential bid. And it took an act of Congress (sorry, couldn’t resist) to coax four U.S. senators to pose for historic photos during their 2010 Buffalo soiree that netted $250,000 for GOP Senate campaigns.
All of this plays out as various factions of the Erie County GOP now compete against each other for the limited amount of local big bucks. One group backs Bush, another Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, still another Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and some loyalists are sticking with former Gov. George E. Pataki.
Indeed, efforts are already underway to stage a major Rubio fundraiser at a local home on Aug. 25 by major political money men with experience in such things. Sources hope that with a far longer planning time and a loftier goal, the total will top the Bush event.
Several sources also report the competition is fierce. Some elbows are being thrown. Compared to past years when local Repubs came together for Romney or John McCain when nominations were settled, this is spawning a growing level of intraparty sniping. All is not harmonious in Republicanland.
Still, Western New York remains hopeful that Bush and the rest of the field of 14 candidates (and growing) will eventually stop here long enough to talk about issues that matter and not just fill their coffers.
Maybe even get more than a wave from the SUV.