GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush’s latest trip to Nevada might not have gone exactly as he’d hoped.
Some six hours after an otherwise uneventful campaign stop in Reno, dozens of protesters chanting “Black Lives Matter” helped escort the top-tier Republican candidate out of a town hall meeting at a North Las Vegas community center.
Protesters shouting the chant — an apparent reference to the Black Lives Matter movement, which seeks to draw attention to police shootings and poverty in black communities — only briefly and sporadically interrupted the meat of Bush’s roughly half-hour speech to around 150 people gathered at the Pearson Community Center.
It wasn’t until the final third of that speech — when Bush fielded a smattering of questions on immigration policy and recent, high-profile police shootings — that some in that audience appeared to turn on the former Florida governor, interrupting his answers to some questions and vocally disapproving of his response to others.
Bush, making his fourth stop in the Silver State, could not be reached for comment after the event.
A campaign spokeswoman said he had met with Black Lives Matter advocates ahead of the appearance. She added: “Governor Bush listened to the group and they discussed barriers to upward mobility in this country, and ways to overcome them as a community by starting to get a few things right in government.”
Once considered the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination — a candidate equal to a potential showdown with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton — Bush has slipped somewhat in national polls, which now show real estate mogul Donald Trump riding a wave of populist rhetoric and round-the-clock media coverage to the top of the GOP’s nomination field.
Bush, often second or third in those polls, didn’t mention Trump by name, but made occasional reference to the virtues of running a campaign that isn’t “preying on people’s fears” and frustrations.
Bush took aim at President Barack Obama’s “lack of leadership” in foreign policy and bemoaned a recently inked, but not finally approved, nuclear deal with Iran — one he said he hopes Congress will reject.
When the town hall was opened for questions, Bush took a few swipes at Clinton, who he has said should share the blame for the rise of Islamic State militants in the Middle East.
That conversation turned tense not long after Bush reiterated his belief that undocumented immigrants ought to be granted a path to citizenship through an “earned legal status.” That status would come through a provisional work permit and would not necessarily constitute citizenship.
It didn’t sit well with several audience members, many of whom would later chant Bush out of the building.
Some shouted for the former governor — a longtime supporter of deportation relief for young immigrants — to back a full amnesty plan. Others audibly scoffed at Bush’s call to “secure the border” — a line that earned him the biggest applause of the night from many town hall attendees.
West Las Vegas resident Jamie Hall asked how Bush could relate to generational poverty and other issues faced by many of those living in and around the town hall venue, located near the heart of Hall’s historically black neighborhood.
“I relate to it by, as president, trying to create a climate where there’s civility and understanding,” Bush said, “and by encouraging mayors and leaders at the local level to engage so there’s not despair and isolation in communities.”
The answer was met with a round of jeers and, a few minutes later, Bush’s clamorous exit from the venue.
Afterward, term-limited Nevada Assemblyman and longtime West Las Vegas resident Harvey Munford shook his head in disbelief. The Democrat said he showed up mostly because he was surprised Bush had decided to stump in North Las Vegas in the first place.
“He needs a little bit more research,” Munford said. “What has happened lately is so tense. It’s something almost bordering on what you would see back in the 60s, with the Watts riots and Detroit riots.
“He could use a little more sensitivity.”
Contact James DeHaven at email@example.com or 702-477-3839. Find him on Twitter: @JamesDeHaven