State Sen. Katrina Shealy introduced Bush before his town hall at the iconic Hudson's Smokehouse here, just outside of Columbia. When Bush took the stage, he attempted to praise Shealy, the only woman in the state senate for the previous three years.
"In fact, when I was governor, in 16 months we had eight hurricanes and four tropical storms. One of them was called Katrina," he said as some in the audience laughed.
"I don't know why your great state senator reminds me of a hurricane. But she does. She's strong and she's fierce, and she's solving problems for you at the state capitol," he continued. "You should be honored to have her as your elected official. I hope you agree with that. That should be your nickname. In the Bush family, we always give out nicknames. Yours is now Hurricane Katrina."
Bush received praise for his handling of hurricanes during his governorship of Florida, and has cited that experience on the campaign trail
But his brother, former President George W. Bush, was widely criticized during the 2005 hurricane that killed more than 1,800 people
-- including 14 in Florida.
Criticism to the remark began to surface on Twitter late Wednesday, although Shealy, a Republican, said she found it an "endearing moment" that was "sweet."
"Everybody in my family, when they had Hurricane Katrina, it was kind of like a big joke in my family because I'm the feisty one in the family," she told CNN in a phone interview. "I'm the one that kinda bosses everybody around."
Shealy said she didn't consider it an insensitive comment and that he was talking more about her personality than about the hurricane itself. Any critics, she said, "don't know Jeb Bush very well. He didn't mean anything negative about that."
"In fact, I'm kinda glad he said it because I can just keep on with my bad self," she said. "I can keep on being feisty and fierce and whatever those words are that people think I am already. When they see me coming into the room, maybe they'll just get out of the way."
One woman in the audience, June Fusco, a Bush supporter, noted that people in the room clapped and perceived it as a positive moment.
"I thought it was a great compliment," she said. "A hurricane moves with great momentum. And she moves with great momentum for the good of the people of South Carolina."
A spokeswoman for the Bush campaign said she did not have anything to add to what Bush said at the event.