It is hard to overstate the importance of New Hampshire for the presidential hopes of Jeb Bush.
He entered the year as the clear frontrunner. Now, after months of unfocused answers in interviews, unimpressive performances in the three GOP debates, and a general lack of enthusiasm on the campaign trail, he’s in the middle of the pack in polls and stunned to be looking up at the likes of Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
And with the New Hampshire primary barely three months away, he arrives in the state knowing that it’s his best chance to re-establish his credibility and get his campaign back on track.
Unlike other moments in recent weeks and months when Bush needed to demonstrate to voters and his donors, that he wants to be president and is ready to fight for the nomination, Tuesday was marked by a Jeb Bush who seemed relaxed, confident, substantive — even enjoying himself.
At an informal town hall and BBQ in the small town of Rye, near the coast, more than 200 people packed a barn where Bush spoke. Some climbed a ladder to the upper loft to get a better view of the speech.
Bush laughed out loud when a man asked his question in a raspy voice, explaining the he’s allergic to leaves, a problem in the otherwise gorgeous Fall season in New England.
A couple hours later, some 30 minutes away at a town hall at a senior citizen center in Raymond there were some clear signs of a campaign looking to get back on track.
When an audience member complimented Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush, the candidate remarked “If I could have all of the people that love my dad and I could have half of the people who don’t like me, I’d probably come out ahead on that pretty good.”
He described his opponents in the race not by name, but as “the big personalities on the stage” who “think they have it all figured out” when it comes to the nation’s problems. He said our politics are a mirror image of our culture, before adding “It’s a circus mirror, okay.” He said that the nation can again have an approach to politics where people who disagree can work together to build consensus.
One of those “big personalities” is Donald Trump, of course, who belittles Bush as “low energy” or as someone who falls asleep at the microphone.
At the Raymond event, 66-year-old retiree Richard Caron stood up and asked about entitlements, and punctuated his question with a cheeky “by the way, good energy tonight.”
The crowd — and Bush — laughed, before the candidate retorted that he actually has good energy every night.
For the record, Caron said his line was a joke. He doesn’t think Bush’s performance in debates and on the trail has been low energy.