- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Voicing disgust with D.C. politicians and insiders? Check. Offering to challenge that status quo? Check. Demonstrating bona fides, complete with quotes pulled from editorials? Check. A call to action, set to soaring music? Check.

Jeb Bush’s first presidential commercial, dubbed “I’ve Delivered,” looks and feels almost identical to lesser-known Republican candidate Marilinda Garcia’s campaign ad called “Trust.” Ms. Garcia lost her bid last year for a House seat from New Hampshire, but her commercial, it seems, lives on — repackaged for Mr. Bush.

As the former Florida governor struggles to cut through the crowded 2016 GOP presidential field, analysts say he’s running a campaign that’s too formulaic, echoing a broader critique of him as a throwback candidate at a time when many voters are looking to move on.

“There’s a lethargy certain people have with his campaign — like we’ve heard this before, we’ve seen this before, we’ve been there before” said Brian Murphy, a GOP chairman in New Hampshire who is unaffiliated with any Republican contender. “There’s certainly challenges related to his legacy and last name, and some preconceived ideas from voters who think they know him already and are asking, ‘Do we really want a fourth term for the Bush family?’”

While some of his competitors are strategizing for the world of the modern primary — where candidates can stay relevant by saturating the news programs and low-cost by relying on the Internet — Mr. Bush is sticking with the old-style strategy, confident that media ads, strong finances and an established ground game will propel him through the finish line.

But in a race dominated by a reality show personality who provides media sound bytes daily, candidates deploying nontraditional YouTube productions meant to go viral, and one contender starring in a feature film meant to showcase her talent, Mr. Bush’s tried-and-true tactics are seeming a bit stale by comparison.

“When he entered the race, because of the money he raised and his last name, he was the established front-runner, so he didn’t have much incentive to run a crazy campaign and to really be out there,” said Ray La Raja, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “But now, after a few gaffes on the campaign trail and uninspired debate performances, his donors are getting worried. Now he’s going to have to be more aggressive and get out of his comfort zone.”

Since January, Mr. Bush’s poll numbers have been cut almost in half as Republican primary voters shift to political outsiders like real estate mogul Donald Trump, neurosurgeon Ben Carson and businesswoman Carly Fiorina.

Still, Bush insiders say not to worry. Although he’s not the flashiest candidate on the campaign stage, he is the one who is built to last.

Unlike others in the field, Mr. Bush amassed an $11.4 million war chest 15 days after entering the race, and his super PAC took in a record-setting haul of $103 million in the first six months of 2015. This cash will allow him to flood the market with pricey television ads in the weeks prior to the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. The goal is to introduce voters to Mr. Bush’s conservative record when voters are ready to listen.

“With so many in the field right now, it’s just difficult to stand out unless you’re a circus clown like Donald Trump,” said Mac Stipanovich, an adviser to Mr. Bush during his 1994 campaign for governor. “Right now, Trump and the angry people are having their moment, but I do believe it will end, and when it ends, Jeb’s the best-positioned to win the nomination.”

Even the Bush family name will end up being a positive for conservative Republican voters, said Mr. Stipanovich, a Florida lobbyist and Republican strategist.

Plus, the field will start to winnow as other candidates make their own mistakes and media scrutiny on everyone’s records begins to intensify.

Television will play a central part in Mr. Bush’s strategy. Last month he announced $500,000 in ads targeting New Hampshire, and a super PAC backing him has booked about $6 million worth of ads in Iowa leading up to the caucuses, with another $24 million earmarked for New Hampshire and South Carolina.

“It’s a muscular buy for a muscular story,” Mike Murphy, who runs the Right to Rise super PAC, told The Des Moines Register.

Whether such a commitment to television makes as much difference in the modern primary is hotly debated, what with viewers gravitating online and the sheer number of other political ads that will be drawing attention.

“Ads can make a difference, no doubt about it, but our market really does get saturated,” said Will Rogers, GOP Chairman in Polk County, Iowa. “But terrific original ads can cut through the clutter, like Joni Ernst’s last cycle. That ad really got a lot of people talking and excited.”

Mr. Rogers was referring to the ad in which Ms. Ernst, who is now a sitting U.S. Senator, referenced how she grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when she got to Washington she’d know how to “cut pork.”

“I’ve seen Mr. Bush’s ads, and they’re not cutting through, in my point of view. The vast majority of people — if they even see it, because people aren’t watching TV anymore — they won’t be convinced to vote for Bush based on that ad,” said Alan Glassman, a GOP representative in New Hampshire. “Jeb really just needs to be here more and not rely on the advertisements as much as the retail politicking.”

Asked earlier this month if he was concerned about his lag in the polls, Mr. Bush, who last ran a campaign in 2002, didn’t flinch.

“We just started to advertise — the campaign is well organized,” Mr. Bush said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “We’re in for the long haul. We filed first in Kentucky. All this stuff may not matter in October or September, but it matters getting on the ballot every place and doing all the things necessary to win a majority of the delegates, ultimately, is what this is about.”

It may not be sexy, but a commitment to retail politics, touting your experience and driving home your record are keys to winning New Hampshire, said David Carney, a Republican strategist in the state.

“This idea you have to have some dancing monkey in your media, to give the political pundits or reporters something to talk about, it’s crazy,” said Mr. Carney. “People go to tried-and-true and proven strategies like television because they work. There you can talk about your record and what you’ve done as a candidate, and that holds weight with voters.”

But that message can’t be stale — not with today’s electorate.

According to a September poll from Pew, just 29 percent of GOP voters say it’s more important for their candidate to have “experience and a proven record” than “new ideas and a different approach.”

“You know, we may end up nominating the candidate with the big money, establishment connections and organized campaign, but this year just seems different,” said Bill O’Connor, the Strafford County GOP chair in New Hampshire. “We just keep hearing the same stuff over and over again — politicians saying they’ll go to Washington and change it and then come back empty-handed. This cycle, people really are just hating anyone who is in Washington or associated with it.”

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