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Iowa State Fair Goers Grill Jeb Bush On Brother's Role In Iraq


The Iowa State Fair isn't just about big hogs, outhouse racing and a cow sculpted out of butter. It's also about politics. This week, in Des Moines, presidential candidates are meeting voters in what has become one of the most important rituals in the state. This morning, it was former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's turn at the state fair. As NPR's Sarah McCammon reports, Bush has been mixing with Iowans and answering questions about how his foreign policy platform compares to his brother's.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: As he walked down the concourse at the Iowa State Fair, Jeb Bush stopped for a moment to check out a display of classic cars. He singled out Matt Pilcher of Norwalk, Iowa, and his two boys.


JEB BUSH: Who are these guys?

MATT PILCHER: Jacob and Isaac.

BUSH: Hey, Jacob, Isaac. You know where you got your name? From the Bible, yep - pretty big names in the Bible.

MCCAMMON: Bush spent the morning touring the fairgrounds before taking the stage at The Des Moines Register Soapbox. Before opening the floor to the often unpredictable questions from fairgoers, he called for cooperation across party lines on major issues facing the country.


BUSH: We need to build a bipartisan consensus again as it relates to foreign policy. So I campaign the way that I would govern - out amongst everybody, no rope lines, totally out in the open.

MCCAMMON: A jab, it seemed, at Republican rival Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. They're coming to the fair tomorrow but are not scheduled to attend the Soapbox with its opportunity for questions and heckling. For example, asked about the rise of ISIS, Bush said the Obama administration has no strategy in Iraq. That led to this exchange with a member of the audience who pointed out that his brother, George W. Bush, signed off on the eventual withdrawal of U.S. combat forces in 2011.


BUSH: First of all, the Iraqis want our help. They want to know that we have skin in the game, that we're committed to this. We don't have to...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: They booted us out in 2011.

BUSH: Excuse me?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We had to get out in 2011.

BUSH: We didn't have to get out in 2011.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Your brother signed the deal.

BUSH: It could've been modified and that was the expectation. Everybody in Iraq and everybody in Washington knew that this deal could've been expanded and now...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Your brother signed a bad deal.

BUSH: ...Now - now we need to do something else.

MCCAMMON: As Jeb Bush has been touting his foreign policy platform, questions about whether it differs from his brother's continue to come up. Speaking to reporters last night at a gathering of Republicans near Des Moines, Bush was asked about his views on waterboarding, an interrogation technique used during the George W. Bush administration. President Obama ended the practice, calling it torture.


BUSH: Well, there's a difference between enhanced interrogation techniques and torture. Torture's - America doesn't do torture.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: So what kind of techniques are a little bit more...

BUSH: I don't know. I don't know. I'm just saying if I'm going to be president of the United States, you take this threat seriously.

MCCAMMON: The Bush name is likely both a liability and an asset depending on who you're talking to. Back at the Iowa State Fair...

TONY QUESINBERRY: I just came out to get a chance to see what Jeb Bush has to say.

MCCAMMON: ...Standing on the edge of the Soapbox crowd, Tony Quesinberry of Ankeny, Iowa, says he hasn't yet decided which Republican he'll support, but he thinks Bush has a machine in place that makes him worthy of attention.

QUESINBERRY: He's got money and he's got infrastructure, which he probably inherited from his family, which is very important to get elected.

MCCAMMON: The question remains whether it's enough for Jeb Bush to rise above all the other candidates in Iowa vying for voters' support. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Des Moines. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.