Bush’s recently released emails are part of his attempt to define himself on his terms. Many of the emails deal with the Schiavo case.

“Please know that I respect the opinions of those who disagree with the actions I have taken,” Bush wrote a constituent in 2005. “This is a heart-wrenching case, and I have not taken any action without thought, reflection and an appreciation for other points of view.”

Friends and advisers to Bush say his actions were driven largely by his faith, and they believe his effort to keep Schiavo alive — despite wide public disapproval — illustrates principled leadership. That could help in early presidential voting states such as Iowa and South Carolina, where social conservatives hold significant sway in the nominating process.

“Jeb felt strongly from a personal standpoint that she should be given a chance,” said Al Cardenas, former chairman of the American Conservative Union.