Republican presidential candidate and former Florida governor Jeb Bush visited the University of Tennessee Saturday afternoon.
He spoke for about two minutes at a Jeb Bush Tailgate, hosted by the UT College Republicans. After that, he spent nearly an hour with Vol fans, shaking hands and taking selfies.
“Jeb! Hello! Welcome to Knoxville!” one woman said to get his attention.
“Good to be here. Beautiful place,” Bush said. “I like the cool weather.”
The event happened under a cloudy sky, with a flurry of photos.
“Oh my gosh, we got a selfie with Jeb Bush!” 17-year-old Republican Sawyer Emerson exclaimed. “He’s like a celebrity!”
Emerson and her mom Melissa Emerson traveled from Nashville for Saturday’s football game and stumbled upon Bush’s stump event.
The two of them said they’re still feeling out the crowded field of GOP presidential candidates.
“He’s better than most, but it’s not firm,” Melissa Emerson said, adding she also likes retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson.
“I’m really thinking Ben Carson just due to his foreign policy plan,” Sawyer Emerson said. “I’m not sure about the Common Core (Bush) has going on, but other than that, he’s a Republican, and so if he wins the nomination, there’s no doubt I’ll be voting for him.”
Gov. Bill Haslam introduced Bush ahead of the candidate’s brief speech.
“If you want a country that grows at 4 percent, not 2 percent,” Bush said to the crowd, “if you want incomes to rise so that the next generation can get jobs, get the first rung of the ladder; if you want to reform the student debt problems that put huge lids on people’s aspirations; if you want a safe and strong and secure America, I hope you’ll get involved in my campaign.”
Brandon Carpenter, a sophomore at UT, said he’s a Republican still shopping around for his candidate.
“One of my favorite lines (from Bush’s speech) was when he was talking about…’Everybody’s conservative. They just don’t know it yet,'” Carpenter said with a smile.
“I’m hoping to find someone that’s going to promote small business and lower taxes,” he said. “I saw Ted Cruz this summer, saw Jeb today, going to go see Ben Carson Sunday night. I think it’s very important to not, kind of, be closed-minded. I think it’s important to see the entire field.”
Bush did his own version of the Vol Walk after the tailgate, as he made his way down to Neyland Stadium, to the surprise of many phone-wielding Vol fans.
“God bless you all,” is how Bush wrapped up his tailgate speech. “I look forward to taking as many selfies as I humanly can. Thank you.”
True to his word, Bush paused for pictures all the way down to the stadium.
“I’ll be back here campaigning,” Bush said, “because we have to win the votes for people – young people. Conservatives need to campaign in places where conservatives hadn’t been seen in a long, long while.”
He said Republicans need to have a “hopeful, optimistic message, not one that’s angry, appealing to people’s angst. We have to lift people’s spirits up again, campaigning in the African American communities and the Latino communities, on college campuses and across the country.”
Bush isn’t the only presidential candidate Knoxville is welcoming this weekend.
Dr. Ben Carson will be in Knoxville Sunday evening, at Books-A-Million on Kingston Pike.
He’ll be signing copies of his new book, starting at 7 p.m., though people are encouraged to arrive early.
To have a chance to meet Carson, people must buy at the Knoxville Books-A-Million a copy of Carson’s new book, A More Perfect Union. They’ll get a ticket, which gives them a place to stand in line.
However, those tickets are only available so long as the books are in stock.
The tickets are “not numbered, so Sunday it’s first-come, first-serve,” general manager Stephanie Sloan said.
“(Carson) will be here at 7. It’s a very quick tour, so he’s got other places to hit, so I don’t know how long he’ll be willing to stay before he has to get back on the road,” she said, “so there is no guarantee. But if you have a ticket and you have a place in line, he will give you an autographed book plate that you can put in your book.”