Bush boosting Republicans in places where Trump isn't strong

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Former President George W. Bush is quietly helping boost Republican candidates in places where President Donald Trump has struggled. In so doing, the former two-term president is raising his profile, ever so slightly, in the national politics he eschewed for years.

On Wednesday, Bush held an event in Fort Worth, Texas, for Republican Rep. Will Hurd in a congressional district Trump lost in 2016. On Friday, Bush is set to appear in Florida, which Trump narrowly carried in 2016, on behalf of Gov. Rick Scott in the state's expensive Senate race.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who will also attend the Scott event, said in an email that his brother "is helping Senate candidates across the country."

These events are a focal part of Bush's re-emergence in national politics ahead before the Nov. 6 election that will help determine control of Congress.

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George W. Bush and family
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George W. Bush and family
President Bush (L) gets a grand welcome home to the White House from granddaughter Jenna (C) after returning from Philadelphia, September 12, 1991. The president's son George W. (Jenna's father) is at rear and her mother Laura Bush is at right. One of the president's dogs is in the foreground. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Gov. George W. Bush gives his mother and former first lady Barbara Bush a hug after a family portrait session, June 10. The Bush family was in Houston celebrating the 75th and 74th birthdays, respectively, of the former president and first lady.
George W. Bush hits the campaign trail with his father, former U.S. President George H. Bush, his wife Laura Bush, former First Lady Barbara Bush at a rally in downtown Houston, November 7, 1994. George W. Bush is running for Governor of Texas against Ann Richards. REUTERS/Michael Boddy
Texas Gov. George W. Bush (L) and his brother Florida Gov. Jeb Bush share a laugh with their father, former President George Bush during a family portrait session, June 10.The Bush family was in Houston celebrating the birthdays of the former president and the former first lady. aal/ Photo by Adrees A. AAL/RC
George W. Bush, wife Laura Bush and daughters, Jenna (L) and Barbara pose for a family portrait in Kennebunkport, Maine in this August 20, 1998 file photo. With the Republican convention set to begin in Philadelphia on July 31, the political focus has centered on who Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush will pick to be his running mate.
George W. Bush with his mother Barbara Bush, father, George Bush, and grandparents, Prescott and Dorothy Bush in Midland, Texas. CM
FILE PHOTO NOV77 - George W. Bush and Laura Welch's wedding In November, 1977. Left to right: Marvin, Dorothy, Neil, Columba, Jeb, Laura, George W., Barabara Bush, George Bush, and Dorothy walker Bush. CM/SV
President-elect George W. Bush's daughter Jenna was admitted to a local hospital December 25, 2000 with "abdominal pains" and underwent an appendectomy, a Bush spokesman said. Jenna (C), pictured in this August 3, 2000 file photo during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia with her mother Laura Bush and grandfather former President George Bush, was celebrating the holiday her family at the Texas governor's mansion. The family will depart on a scheduled trip to Florida today for a family reunion without Jenna, who will probably join the gathering on Wednesday, the spokesman said. MMR
President-elect George W. Bush's daughter Jenna was admitted to a local hospital December 25, 2000 with "abdominal pains" and underwent an appendectomy, a Bush spokesman said. Jenna (L) and her 19-year-old twin, Barbara, pictured in this August 3, 2000 file photo during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, were celebrating the holiday with Bush and his wife, Laura, at the Texas governor's mansion. The family will depart on a scheduled trip to Florida today for a family reunion without Jenna, who will probably join the gathering on Wednesday, the spokesman said. MMR
President George W. Bush (R) is hugged by his daughter Jenna while his wife, first lady Laura Bush (2nd R), daughter Barbara (L) and Vice President Dick Cheney look on, after Bush was sworn in at the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 2001. Bush took the oath of office as the 43rd President of the United States during the Inauguration ceremony and pledged he would work to build "a single nation of justice and opportunity. MMR/ME
Former U.S. President George Bush (L) puts his arm around President George W. Bush (C) as they leave the 18th green with Florida Governor Jeb Bush after playing an early morning round at Cape Arundel Golf Club in Maine July 7, 2001. The Bushes are enjoying a family gathering this weekend at their Kennebunkport home. KL
U.S. President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush leave church with their young niece Gigi Koch, daughter of the president's sister Dorothy, after attending Sunday services at St. Ann's Episcopal Church July 8, 2001 in Kennebunkport, Maine. The president is in the final day of a four-day family vacation at his parents' seaside summer home. JRB/ME
President George W. Bush signs the Protect Act of 2003 also known as the Amber Alert legislation surrounded by former missing children and their families during a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington April 30, 2003. Former missing child Elizabeth Smart watches at left. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn GMH
(L-R) First lady Laura Bush, her daughters Jenna and Barbara, and Republican Senator John McCain (AZ) sit in the first row for the debate between Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and U.S. President George W. Bush at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida September 30, 2004. The debate is the first of three presidential debates before the election November 2. REUTERS/Brian Snyder US ELECTION BS
First family twins Barbara (L) and Jenna Bush, U.S. President George W. Bush's 22-year-old daughters, are pictured at the prime time program of the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York, August 30, 2004. Republicans opened their four-day national convention on Monday with salutes to President George W. Bush's wartime leadership and repeated reminders of his aggressive response to the September 11, 2001, attacks. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn US ELECTION REUTERS HK
Former U.S. President George H. W. Bush (C) walks with granddaughter Barbara Bush (L), and daughter-in-law Margaret Bush (R), towards Air Force One before departing Texas for Washington May 11, 2008. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES)
U.S. President George W. Bush (L-R), his wife Laura Bush, their daughter Jenna Hager and her husband Henry Hager arrive to participate in a commemorative tree planting ceremony on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington September 27, 2008. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES)
U.S. President George W. Bush (L-R), his daughter Jenna Hager and her husband Henry Hager participate in a commemorative tree planting ceremony on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington September 27, 2008. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES)
U.S. President George W. Bush and his daughter Jenna laugh together as they attend the 2008 National Book Festival Gala Performance at the Library of Congress in Washington September 26, 2008. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES)
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Vice President Dick Cheney, Jenna Bush Hager, Henry Hager and Barbara Bush, attend the dedication ceremony for the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, April 25, 2013. U.S President Barack Obama is in Texas to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with former president George W. Bush in what could serve as a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggle against terrorism, from the Sept. 11 attacks to the Boston Marathon bombings. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
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Another former president, Barack Obama, also has come off the political sidelines for the upcoming midterms.

Both parties have much at stake. Democrats want to capitalize on Trump unpopularity and gain the 23 seats they need to regain a majority in the House and launch investigations of the administration and, potentially, impeachment hearings.

Republicans are increasingly concerned about their ability to fend off Democrats aiming to retake the Senate and win complete control of Congress.

The presence of Trump looms large over the elections. He has pledged to campaign as many days as possible to help Republicans defend their majorities, including in Texas, where Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is defending his seat against a strong challenge from Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke.

The president has demonstrated that with one Tweet, he can sway the fortunes of Republicans who dare cross him. That puts Republican candidates in places where voters don't love Trump in sticky positions.

So Bush is stepping in, officials in Washington, Florida and Texas said. Doing so could help with voters such as independents and women who want Congress to stay in Republican hands.

"We're beyond grateful that President Bush is helping in the fight to keep the House," said Matt Gorman, spokesman for the House Republicans' campaign committee. "His support of accomplished members like Will Hurd are critical to our effort."

The GOP chairman in Florida, Blaise Ingoglia, said Bush will be a "plus" for Scott's bid to defeat the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson.

"There are still plenty of people in the state of Florida who love and admire President Bush," Ingoglia said.

It's not Bush's first move back toward national politics.

Bush re-emerged with a message that echoed with politics at the Sept. 1 funeral of Arizona Sen. John McCain in Washington. The late senator had asked Bush and Obama to give eulogies.

Trump wasn't invited to the service and his name was rarely mentioned in the speeches, but collectively the ceremony was seen as a rebuke by official Washington of his divisive approach to the presidency.

"John's voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder: We are better than this. America is better than this," Bush said from the pulpit of Washington National Cathedral.

The Bush family has long had a complicated relationship with Trump.

During the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Trump said Jeb Bush was "low energy" and argued that George W. Bush had failed to keep the nation safe after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Trump didn't attend the funeral this year of Barbara Bush, the wife and mother of former presidents. First lady Melania Trump attended.

Both Hurd and Scott have tried to distance themselves from Trump.

A former CIA agent, Hurd criticized Trump in a New York Times op-ed in July after the president's deferential news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin after their meeting in Helsinki. Trump, Hurd wrote, was guilty of a "failure to defend the United States intelligence community's unanimous conclusions" that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.

"His standing idle on the world stage while a Russian dictator spouted lies confused many but should concern all Americans," Hurd wrote. "By playing into Vladimir Putin's hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad."

Trump urged Scott to run against Nelson, but Scott has publicly kept his distance from the president. In April, Scott skipped a Trump discussion of the tax-cut package in South Florida, heading out of state to raise money for his Senate campaign instead.

In late July, Scott traveled on Air Force One with the president when he visited Florida. But the governor skipped Trump's campaign rally held in Tampa, opting instead to hold a fundraiser in nearby Clearwater.

The governor split with Trump over the administration's policy of separating families at the border but did not sharply criticize the president. Instead, he sent a letter to federal authorities calling for an immediate end to the policy and demanded that state officials be told about children brought into Florida.

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Kellman reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that Rick Scott, who is running for the U.S. Senate, is still Florida's governor.

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