GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeb Bush during a campaign event on Oct. 1, 1998
Steve Liss—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty
By Lily Rothman
December 16, 2014

After months of will-he-or-won’t-he chatter, Jeb Bush has rocketed into headlines by announcing that he’s officially exploring a 2016 run for President. But Bush is no stranger to making news.

Last year TIME’s Jon Meacham considered the possibility that the run might happen, and the myth that “Jeb was the Bush son who was supposed to be President” — a myth that can be traced back to 1994, when both George W. Bush and Jeb Bush ran for governor, of Texas and Florida, respectively. The former won; the latter lost.

In 1998, when Jeb Bush ran again, things had changed. After a religious conversion and a family crisis, his new campaign was, as TIME put it in a profile of the politician, “kinder, gentler.” It worked, bringing him a victory that fall. A gubernatorial run that had been focused on compassion, education and broad appeal was a change from the more conservative style of Bush family campaigning, and that wasn’t the only thing that was different about him:

Jeb Bush has always been the most unusual of the Bush kids. Yes, he had the Greenwich pedigree and the summers in Kennebunkport. But while still in high school, he went to Mexico and came back in love with a Mexican girl named Columba. He married her, and the Bush Episcopalians, with their love of cold Maine waters, suddenly had a warm Catholic woman for a daughter-in-law. Then Jeb left Houston, the city he grew up in, and put down roots in the Latino culture of Miami, where his family had little sway. He lost his first race for Governor of Florida in 1994 by fewer than 2 percentage points, and the finish was not pretty.

Bush had been so obsessed with the campaign that he almost lost his family too. Which is why, to those watching the 45-year-old second son of the former President become the front runner in this year’s gubernatorial race, Bush seems so different, so much softer around the edges.

Read the rest of the 1998 story, free of charge, here in the TIME archives: Kinder, Gentler—And in the Lead

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