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Opinion: Jeb Bush rallies to the defense of John McCain, Charlie Crist

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John McCain and his main ally in Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist, on Thursday received what could prove some crucial cover from the man who dominated the state’s political scene until term limits prevented him from seeking a third term as its chief executive -- Jeb Bush.

Bush, like most Florida politicians from both parties, long opposed oil drilling off the state’s tourism-friendly coastlines. But during a conference call with reporters including The Times’ Peter Wallsten, he rose to the defense of McCain, who earlier this week endorsed such exploration as one answer to skyrocketing gasoline prices, and Crist, who in turn backed off his previous opposition to the proposal (and took some grief as a result).

“You can protect the natural resources and the coastline of the state and also be part of national effort to deal with a national security crisis that our country faces right now,” he said. “It’s a huge economic problem for a lot of Americans, which is four-plus dollars a gallon gasoline. It’s a burden that was never anticipated when we were discussing drilling policy 20 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago, two years ago.

“So I think you’ve got to give people in public life a little bit of room when the context changes for them to also adjust their views.”

Pundits are wondering whether McCain, who had been viewed as the favorite to win Florida’s 27 electoral votes in November, damaged his chances to do so with his call for an end to the federal ban on offshore oil drilling (he would let states decide for themselves).

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Bush scoffed at such speculation.

“I don’t think it’s going to hurt Sen. McCain,” he said. “I think the knee-jerk reaction, just to say ‘no’ without an alternative, you know, it may work when times are good but when times are tough and people are hurting, they’re not going to tolerate that.”

“My guess is if you did a poll … people support drilling in a reasonable way off Florida’s coast,” said the former governor, whose brother, President Bush, also had a change of heart this week on the issue (and who recently reminded folks that Jeb should not be written off as White House material).

Funny how all that works.

-- Don Frederick


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