Jeb Bush went straight to New Hampshire after Wednesday night’s Republican debate. That’s where the former Florida governor needs a strong showing if he is to remain a contender for his party’s nomination and where he’s now working to reignite a campaign seen as sputtering.
The large sign that hung above Jeb Bush’s head during his New Hampshire campaign stops read “Jeb Can Fix it.” It was intended to refer to Washington, but to GOP voters like Larry Eller, who turned out to see Bush at a Geno’s Chowder Shop in Portsmouth, the first thing Bush needs to fix is how he’s campaigned.
“I’m just not sure he really wants it. I think it’s a job you’ve got to really want, not just being talked into it by all the family members — ‘Oh, yeah, you should run.’ If you don’t want it, you are not going to do a good job,” he said.
Bush’s trip to Geno’s was something of a homecoming. “I told you I was going to come back,” he told the crowd.
The Bush family has visited this lunch spot for years; a picture of Barbara Bush even hangs behind the counter. But on this day, Jeb Bush spoke outside, on a small pier lined with hay bales gone soggy from repelling the year’s highest tide.
Bush brought re-enforcements: former Sen. Judd Gregg and the president of the New Hampshire state senate. The candidate himself spoke briefly, saying he was a doer, not a talker, and that the job of president is about more than standing out during televised debates.
“It’s not about the big personalities on the stage. It’s not about performance. It’s about leadership. And the leader today in this country needs to be a unifier,” Bush said.
Bush then faced the media. He said his immediate strategy is to spend a lot of time in New Hampshire. And he also denied, strenuously, that his campaign is failing.
“It’s not on life support. We have the most money, we have the greatest organization. We’re doing fine,” he said, noting that in late October four years ago, Herman Cain was the front-runner for the Republican nomination.
Bush’s next stop was the college town of New London. There, he drew more than 200 people to a town hall meeting. Bush fielded questions on topics ranging from entitlements to solar energy. He answered each at length, and the crowd seemed satisfied.
“He’s not a TV star. But I think he’s a very genuine, honest guy, and pretty sincere. And I think we can use a little of that,” Republican voter Joe Shaw said as he walked out of the town hall. He said he didn’t think Bush did himself any good during Wednesday’s debate, but Shaw liked what he saw Thursday.
Jeb Bush’s hope of reaching the White House may ride on convincing other New Hampshire voters to feel the same way.