- The Washington Times - Monday, November 2, 2015

Hoping to kick-start his sputtering presidential campaign, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush rolled out his new pitch to voters Monday, promising to be the “fix-it” man who can deliver quiet leadership on conservative policies without resorting to the outsized tactics and personalities he says taint the rest of the field.

The reboot couldn’t come soon enough for Mr. Bush, who has fallen to seventh place in the latest polling out of Iowa and remains mired in sixth place in New Hampshire, dinged by a lackluster performance in last week’s GOP presidential debate.

Speaking in Tampa, Mr. Bush predicted that when “the dust clears” he will emerge victorious in the race by convincing voters he is better prepared than his more flashy and less experienced rivals in the crowd Republican field.

“The campaign trail is littered with candidates disguised as television critics. Politicians echoing poll-tested pabulum. But leadership is something far different,” he said. “It’s not about telling people what they want to hear, but what they must hear. It’s not about saying the right thing, but doing the right thing.”

He seemed to be taking particular aim at businessman Donald Trump, a reality television host who has shaken up the GOP race and whose evaluation of Mr. Bush as “low energy” has rung true with many voters, sending the former governor tumbling.

In Iowa he now garners just 5 percent, trailing Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, in the latest survey by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling. His favorability rating also remains upside down among likely GOP caucus-goers. In New Hampshire Mr. Bush wins support of 7 percent of likely primary voters in a new Monmouth University Poll released Monday — the same level as in September, but down from 12 percent in July.

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Mr. Trump leads in both polls, showing only slight drops from previous surveys, though Ben Carson and Sen. Ted Cruz have surged in the Iowa poll and Sen. Marco Rubio has made major gains in the New Hampshire survey, leaping to third place behind Mr. Trump and Mr. Carson.

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth Poll, said Mr. Rubio is benefitting from having bested Mr. Bush in last week’s debate.

Mr. Bush went into that debate looking for a chance to go after Mr. Rubio, a fellow Floridian whom the Bush camp saw as a direct threat in both fundraising and support. But Mr. Bush’s attack on Mr. Rubio’s record of missing votes in Congress fell flat when the senator eviscerated him, accusing him of bowing to the wishes of consultants who insisted on the need to land a haymaker.

Mr. Bush seemed to repent of the whole affair Monday, using his speech to mock pundits and campaign advisers and saying he’s “gotten a lot of advice myself lately — more than enough.”

“I can’t be someone I’m not,” Mr. Bush concluded.

The bad debate performance came just days after Mr. Bush announced he was cutting staff and refocusing his campaign on early-voting states, and after he huddled with his family in Houston, including his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and his brother, former President George W. Bush.

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Some conservative activists and leading pundits — including Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan — have declared Mr. Bush’s campaign moribund, saying he hasn’t been able to state a reason for his run.

Mr. Bush tried to counter those sentiments in his speech, ticking off tax cuts and educational choice policies he oversaw during his eight years as Florida governor, and saying GOP voters should look to those accomplishments rather than turn to the untested Mr. Trump.

“The challenges we face as a nation are too great to roll the dice on another presidential experiment,” Mr. Bush said. “To trust the rhetoric of reform over a record of reform. After seven years of incompetence, corruption and gridlock in Washington, we need a president who can fix it.”

In many ways, his message harkened back to his mid-June campaign launch in Florida, where he also vowed to shake up Washington, pointed to his record in Florida and argued that President Obama’s tenure serves as a warning that there is “no substitute” for executive experience.

At the time, he was leading the GOP field in national polling.

That changed in mid-July when Mr. Trump climbed to the top, riding a stern rebuke of Mr. Bush’s immigration policy and a withering critique of the former governor’s personal campaign style.

GOP analysis say Mr. Bush has struggled to convince voters that he has the political skills necessary to win the election, and that has made it harder for him to overcome lingering concerns about him being the scion of the most well-known family dynasties in Republican circles, following the presidencies of his father and brother.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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