Jeb Bush cheered, jeered at conservative confab28 february 2015, 14:41
Jeb Bush courted rightwing American voters at a crucial political testing ground Friday, but the presumed Republican presidential frontrunner for 2016 received a mixed reception -- including heckles -- from wary conservatives, AFP reports.
The former Florida governor has work to do to convince some of the Republican Party faithful crowding the annual talk shop known as CPAC at Oxon Hill, close to Washington, where several competing presidential hopefuls are attempting to get core conservatives on side.
It is not necessarily as a member of the controversial Bush dynasty -- a hurdle that in itself may be a heavy lift -- but rather as an establishment favorite whom some here see as a sellout to billionaire donors and Obama-backed policies like immigration reform and education standards.
"I know there is disagreement here," Bush, 62, told the convention, acknowledging hecklers as he discussed his gently-gently position on immigration.
"If I run for president I have to show what's in my heart. I have to show that I care about people and their future.
"It can't be about the past. It can't be about my mom and dad, or my brother (presidents George HW and George W)."
When pressed, Bush said he opposes President Barack Obama's executive overreach shielding millions from deportation.
But he stressed that for those living in the shadows, "we should give them a path to legal status where they work, they don't receive government benefits... and they make a contribution to our society."
It was a hard sell at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where attendees were eyeing their conservative pick for winning the White House.
"You suck!" a protester yelled.
The Republican Party has repeatedly said it aims to include more minorities under its tent.
But the largely white conservative base is crucial for candidates who mount primary challenges in deep-red states such as South Carolina.
Bush has some big-footed potential competitors for the Republican ticket, but he has dominated the money race, lassoing A-list donors and raking in millions of dollars at fundraisers for his political action committee.
He has reportedly poached key fundraising and campaign staff from possible rivals.
Bush has also made high-profile speeches recently, laying out his foreign policy approach -- US strategy on the IS group: "Tighten the noose and take them out" -- and, in an effort to assuage concern about his last name, insisting to a think tank that "I am my own man."
So while potential campaign trail adversaries at CPAC were gleefully attacking likely Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, they also sought to knock Jeb down a peg in front of a friendly crowd.
Senator Ted Cruz, a grassroots Tea Party favorite from Texas, sneered that Clinton "embodies the corruption of Washington," but he raked Bush and other Republicans over the coals for failing to stand firm on issues like immigration.
"Actions speak far, far louder than words. We need to look to people who walk the walk," Cruz said, adding that real conservatives are "in the trenches."
Cruz received a cheer when a moderator asked the audience about their support for 2016 candidates. Bush's name was booed.
Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian who has connected well with young voters, received thunderous applause and chants of "President Paul! President Paul!"
"Our nation needs new ideas and new answers to old problems," Paul said in his speech, as he savaged the bulk data collection by US intelligence agencies and pledged to unveil plans for "the largest tax cut in American history."
Bush may have trouble connecting with the base on a personal level, which Paul excels at, with voters who demand conservative orthodoxy on fiscal debates over debt reduction, as well as social issues like marriage and abortion.
"It's not about telling them (that he is conservative), it's just about who he is," CPAC attendee David Soper, who owns an advertising company, told AFP.
Bush acknowledged he has managed to convert at least one skeptic about his presidential potential -- mother Barbara Bush, who in 2013 said Americans have had "enough Bushes" in the White House.
"Since that time she's had a change of heart," Bush said. "And that's alright by me."