Jeb Bush highlights hurricane experience

Story highlights

  • Bush visited the Pensacola shore on Wednesday and recalled his experience dealing with major storms while serving as Florida's governor
  • Bush uses his hurricane expertise as a major selling point on the campaign trail

Pensacola, Florida (CNN)A former two-term governor of a large, diverse state, Jeb Bush knows that one of his biggest advantages in the race to the White House is his experience.

It's a message he invokes when he draws contrasts with candidates he describes as "talkers" not "doers," and increasingly more so lately, with Donald Trump on immigration.
As the country gears up for the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this week, Bush visited the Pensacola shore on Wednesday to remember not only the impact that the devastating hurricane had on his state, but of the two back-to-back hurricane seasons that slammed into Florida's coastline at this time 10 and 11 years ago.
    Amid the destruction and devastation, Bush was widely applauded for his handling of emergency and recovery efforts -- far more so than his brother, George W. Bush, who was President at the time.
    Jeb Bush now uses his hurricane expertise as a major selling point on the campaign trail. "I've learned about leadership through trial and error. I've got tire marks on my forehead to prove it," he said Wednesday. "You learn these things if you're all in. You learn these things by experience. You don't talk about things on the sidelines."
    A day before, his team released a highly produced two-minute video featuring footage from 2004 when four hurricanes -- Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne -- hit within six weeks.
    A year later, it was Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma that struck Florida. Bush frequently points out that there were four other tropical storms during that 17-month period. "It wasn't in the playbook when I got elected," he said Wednesday at a town hall event in Pensacola. "They didn't say, 'OK, get ready for eight hurricanes, four tropical storms.'"
    At his town hall, which took place at the Pensacola Bay Center where people sought shelter during Hurricane Ivan, Bush praised the community for coming together to repair the area and help out other devastated cities in the region. When Katrina hit, for example, Florida sent a wave of first responders to states that were less prepared. "We became the city managers of the six counties in southern Mississippi," he said.
    "This was a trying time but it was an inspirational time for this community," he added.
    His campaign on Tuesday also released a chapter from his upcoming e-book, "Reply All," which is available for pre-order and will publish on Oct. 30. Each chapter focuses on a year from his tenure as governor, and Monday's release focuses on 2004. It shows emails to and from Bush during August and September when the storms hit.
    Included is an email from a reporter asking Bush why he wasn't attending the Republican National Convention in New York in late August, when his brother would be re-nominated for his second term as president. At the time, Hurricane Frances was approaching, and Bush responded nine minutes later saying he had work to do in his state.
    "I will not be going to NYC but in no way should that be seen as a lack of fortitude to work for the Prez's reelection. Now, we have Frances approaching our shores so I will be doing double duty," he wrote.
    The selection of emails also includes a number of messages of support, praise and utter shock at the frequency and intensity of the storms, including from a skeptical Democratic voter who offered him a virtual "hug from a Democrat."
    His campaign is well aware of the fact that Bush's executive experience needs to stay front and center, and he can't afford to let it be drowned out by the noisy and at time dizzying horse race, where a verbal slip -- like using the phrase "anchor baby" -- can become a storyline for five days in a row.
    In another email from a reporter on Sept. 20, 2004, he's asked who advises governors during such disasters.
    "Come to think of it, I have not gotten any advice on my job from outsiders," Bush wrote. "It has been from experience dealing with past intense occasions (9-11, even political campaigns), learning as I go and just plan (sic) instincts. In addition, I have a great staff of people who have worked very hard these last six weeks."
    Indeed, an event in Lansing, Michigan, earlier this summer, Bush pointed to his handling of counterterrorism efforts in the wake of 9/11. It was in Boca Raton where five people were killed in anthrax attacks, and Bush said the coordination of state agencies to deal with new terror threats helped prepare the state down the road for the deadly hurricane seasons.
    It's a point that he hopes will set him apart from his competition. In his comments back in May, Bush tip-toed near "3 a.m. phone call" territory, saying that when bad things happen, voters will want someone who's long been in the driver's seat.
    "There's going to be all sorts of disasters that take place -- natural disasters, attacks on the homeland -- it's a certainty in an uncertain world that this president and the next president is going to have to confront all sorts of challenges where his leadership or her leadership is going to matter," he said.