01:33 - Source: CNN
Jeb Bush on admiring Obama's charisma

Story highlights

More than ever, candidates are tapping into the city's plump campaign coffers

Holding open campaign events, however, is much less common

San Francisco CNN —  

Jeb Bush had a different kind of day on the campaign trial.

At an employee town hall on Thursday, he was asked by a gay man whether he favors policies that discriminate against same-sex couples, was told by a voter that Bush made “mistakes” by not enforcing stricter gun control as governor, and was questioned about pay equality for women.

Those aren’t typical lines of questioning heard on the Republican presidential circuit. But that’s because Bush was far away from the GOP campaign trail in early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Bush campaigned in the liberal stronghold of San Francisco, holding an event at Thumbtack, a website and app that matches customers with professionals for various tasks, like home improvement projects and events.

It was there that Bush praised “disruptor” type companies based in Silicon Valley like Uber, which he said could inspire government to usher in a new era of technology-based thinking.

It’s not highly unusual for Republicans to venture into San Francisco. More than ever, candidates are tapping into the city’s plump campaign coffers as Silicon Valley gets more involved in politics. Holding open campaign events, however, is much less common.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, however, opened an office in the city earlier this year, aiming to prove that he’s willing to campaign in nontraditional Republican areas. And going to bluer states and cities is a strategy that Bush has also said he plans to do.


Bush’s event Thursday came one day after a judge ruled that Uber – which is facing regulation and driver union issues – failed to comply with certain state rules in California and recommended a $7.3 million fine or face suspension in the state.

Bush acknowledged there’s a “big tension between companies that are disrupting the old order” and more traditional forms of business. “And if they have done something wrong, they should pay a fine,” he said.

But he went on to call Uber a “pretty vital service” that provides ample opportunities for people to obtain employment and turn their lives around, noting a driver he met last month who was funding his medical school education with his income from Uber.

“Uber is giving that person a chance to start out and … fulfill his dream. He wants to be a doctor,” he told reporters. “And most of these stories are stories that are relevant to people, and that’s why I like using them.”

Bush pulled up to the event via Uber, riding shotgun in a dark blue Toyota Camry. It’s a mode of transportation he uses often. In fact, his campaign listed about 70 expenditures for the ride-sharing service, according to recent filings.

He decried rules that prevent Uber drivers from picking up passengers at airports, calling such laws “ridiculous” and stifling for innovation. “We need to become much more dynamic in our government to respond to a really dynamic occupation.”

Bush’s ringing endorsement for the company hasn’t been unusual for Republican presidential candidates this cycle who herald the company’s pro-capitalist approach. His comments also come just days after Hillary Clinton critiqued ride-sharing services and other companies that make up the “gig economy,” building on concerns that such industries threaten the stability and security offered by traditional jobs.

Democrats have been eager to note that while Bush and other Republicans have trumpeted Uber, its CEO and co-founder, Travis Kalanick, offered some praise of Obamacare last year, saying it’s been “huge” for business because it makes individuals less dependent on their employers for health care and enables them to have more flexible ways of earning a living.

Asked about Kalanick’s comments, Bush said, “sure that may be true” but argued for a “better approach” to health care that would be based upon a portable model. Such a system, he said, would allow people to pick insurance on exchanges that “don’t have mandates attached to them” and they can bring their insurance with them if they change jobs.

Looking past the primary

Bush also used the event to show his comfort level in taking questions from a more general election audience.

When asked by a gay man about the recent same-sex marriage debate, Bush told him, “I don’t think you should be discriminated because of your sexual orientation.” But he reiterated his stance that there should be room for same-sex couples to wed and also for those who oppose such marriages to act on their faith.

“If a gay couple comes in and says I want to buy flowers, you should be obligated to sell them flowers. Doing otherwise would be discrimination,” Bush said. “But if that couple asked you to participate in the wedding, and you said based on my conscious, ‘I shouldn’t’ or ‘I won’t,’ you should not be fined.”

He also fielded a question on net neutrality, a controversial set of regulations that the Federal Communications Commission agreed to adopt for the Internet. While net neutrality has both fans and detractors in Silicon Valley, Bush agreed with many of his Republican colleagues when he called it a “stupid idea.”

And while the Second Amendment frequently comes up as a topic at Bush’s campaign events, this time the question came from a different angle. A gun-owning employee told Bush he used to live in Florida and appreciated some of the governor’s education policies but argued Bush made “mistakes” by not enacting stricter gun control and asked whether he favored “universal background checks.”

Bush argued that his tough-on-crime laws helped bring down gun violence in Florida, as did the state’s pro-gun rights laws that allowed more people to obtain concealed carry permits.

“So we may have to disagree on this,” he said. “I don’t know.”

He was also asked about equal pay for women. “Wages should be equal,” he said flatly. There are laws that require pay equality, he added, and those laws “should be enforced, period over and out.”

“I don’t think there should be any argument about that, and the laws on the books make it possible to use the judicial system to do that,” he said.

And while trying to portray himself as a Republican with broad appeal, Bush even agreed to list qualities he admires about President Barack Obama, a potentially risky move for a Republican in a competitive primary.

While Bush appeared to enjoy his jaunt into San Francisco, the candidate resumes the early voting state campaign trail when he travels on Friday to Carson City, Nevada, which holds the first nominating contest in the West.