His new campaign slogan tested in his home state of Florida, Jeb Bush is pushing his “Jeb Can Fix It” presidential campaign tour into early voting South Carolina and New Hampshire to re-introduce himself as the lone Republican who can right what’s wrong with Washington.
But the pithy slogan could apply as much to his effort to steady the campaign as it does to his sense of confidence about handling the nation’s problems.
“This is not about big personalities on the stage. It’s not about talking. It’s about doing,” the two-term Republican Florida governor told supporters in Jacksonville, the last of three stops on Monday. He will hold a town hall in Lexington, South Carolina, Tuesday before embarking on a three-day bus tour throughout New Hampshire.
The remarks, repeated earlier in Tampa and Orlando, were obvious jabs at rivals Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, and a nod to his flat performance in the debate last week in Colorado.
Bush’s reset comes as a populist surge has propelled the outsider campaigns of bombastic developer Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson — and created an opportunity for Rubio, a freshman senator from Florida and former Bush protege, to make his appeal to the party establishment.
Bush and Rubio spent Monday jockeying for establishment credentials. Bush announced the backing of soon-to-be Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who was chief of staff to Rubio when he was speaker. Rubio countered with an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, who took a veiled swipe at the Bush legacy by saying the nation needs a “new generation” of leaders.
What seemed last summer like the right slogan to carry Bush into the final three months of the pre-primary campaign now has an off-key ring, underscored by a cascade of criticism in online forums, including Twitter.
Even in his home state of Florida, Bush has a steep climb. Statewide polls show Trump leading the large GOP field, with Carson and Rubio ahead of Bush.
Surrounded Monday by friends and former colleagues, Bush delivered a morning speech in Tampa that amounted to re-declaring his candidacy, without changing his message or significantly altering his campaign strategy. Bush recently announced an across-the-board cut in salaries to protect his available campaign cash for the final charge into Iowa.
“But let me be clear: I’m not stepping into the role of ‘angry agitator’ that they have created for us, because it’s not what’s in my heart,” Bush said, a nod to the frustration Trump has stoked.
Bush is making some tactical changes, such as spending more sustained time in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
But the message does not appear to be changing. Nor does Bush’s dry, matter-of-fact, and at times self-deprecating delivery.
No need to change, said Will Bissette, a 75-year-old Tampa real estate investor who was among the 200 or so in the auditorium.
“It’s still early,” said Bissette. “Jeb’s recognizing what he needs to do.”
Todd Josko, a 47-year-old communications consultant from Tampa, said people will look back on Monday, “as the day the campaign turned around.”
In a show of quiet confidence more hidden in recent weeks, Bush assured his audience he had the stomach for the fight.
“I’m running this campaign on my own terms. And let me tell you something, when the dust clears and the delegates are counted, we’re going to win this campaign,” Bush said, igniting cheers and chants throughout the audience: “Jeb! Jeb! Jeb!”
Bustos reported from Jacksonville, Florida. AP writers Tamara Lush in Tampa, Florida, and Brendan Farrington in Orlando contributed to this report.
On Twitter, follow Tamara Lush at https://twitter.com/tamaralush.
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