Jeb Bush’s big political credential, and his presumed strength in the presidential campaign he’ll launch on Monday, is the broad appeal he demonstrated over two terms as Florida governor—doubly important given the critical role Florida’s primary will play in winnowing the GOP field. Bush handily won his last race, in 2002, by drawing support from Republicans and Democrats with what even his opponents describe as a unique personal connection to Florida voters. “It’s very hard to unify the state as a political figure,” Steve Schale, a Democratic operative who ran Obama’s Florida campaign in 2008, recently told New York. “But you can do it as a personality.”
Bush did it. But he may not be nearly as strong in Florida as his reputation suggests. A Bloomberg Politics study conducted with University of Florida political scientist Daniel A. Smith found that nearly three-quarters of Florida’s 12.9 million currently registered voters have never even seen Bush’s name on a ballot. “That’s a surprisingly large number,” says Smith, “which is due to a combination of low turnout and the turnover in the electorate over the 13 years since he was last on the ballot.” About 35 percent of voters in that election have disappeared from the state’s rolls—most have died, moved away or gone to prison. (Another group, thought to be much smaller, has been judged “mentally incapacitated” and stripped of the right to vote, although the Florida secretary of state’s office could not say precisely how many.) By contrast, 92 percent of Floridians who voted when Marco Rubio was last on the ballot, in 2010, are still registered.