- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 29, 2015

Jeb Bush’s supporters are sticking with the former Florida governor in the GOP presidential contest, disputing analysts who say his campaign shakeup last week and stumbles in Wednesday’s debate have put him on campaign deathwatch.

Financiers and other backers said Mr. Bush needs to outlast the insurgent candidates who have dominated the race so far, and said they expect voters will eventually warm to him.

“At this point in time it is style over substance and usually as you get closer to January or February of next year is usually turns out to be at least equal substance and style,” said Barry Wynn, Mr. Bush’s South Carolina co-chair and a top campaign “bundler.” “I think when it does make that turn it is definitely good for Jeb.”

Mr. Bush’s stock has been falling in national polls since midsummer and his campaign recently announced that it was scaling back its operation to save money, shifting focus from a national campaign to early primary states.

He’s banking in particular on New Hampshire and a revival similar to that of Sen. John McCain, who underwent a similar shrinkage in 2007, only to emerge the next year as the victor in New Hampshire, en route to winning the GOP’s nomination.

But Mr. Bush’s wonky, low-key, style, combined with rust that comes from not running in a competitive campaign in 12 years, has made it hard for him to break out of a 2016 field that has been dominated by the brash personality of Donald Trump, the iconoclastic candidacy of Ben Carson and fresh faces in Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

SEE ALSO: Jeb Bush doubles down with his attack on Marco Rubio’s Senate record

“He doesn’t seem to have any fire,” said Bruce Perlo, chair of New Hampshire’s Grafton County GOP, who called Mr. Bush a nice guy and is uncommitted in the race. “He just doesn’t get anybody excited.”

Wednesday’s debate in Colorado didn’t help Mr. Bush’s case. Pundits rated him the biggest loser of the affair, and he came out on the losing end of one of the memorable exchanges as he tried to bash fellow Floridian Mr. Rubio, but was instead eviscerated by the younger man.

In their post-debate analysis, the political gurus at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics summed up the situation as such: “BushWorld is panicking, and we cannot imagine Bush calmed any nerves on this night.”

Bush is the foundering ship in a fast-developing and unexpected storm, and it’s unclear whether or not his campaign can bail water sufficiently and make a serious course correction to put Bush on a path toward the Republican nomination,” they wrote.

Some of his rivals, meanwhile, relished Mr. Bush’s debate stumble, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign, which claimed “Jeb Bush is in trouble” in a fundraising email Thursday. On CNN, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Mr. Bush empowered the debate moderators by entertaining a question about fantasy football.

For his part, Mr. Bush laughed off the suggesting during interview on Fox News that his campaign was on its death bed.

“We are still in October. We have more than 100 days left before we got to the Iowa caucuses. We have an extraordinary team here,” Mr. Bush said, speaking from New Hampshire, where he received the endorsement Thursday from the state’s former Sen. Judd Gregg. “All across this country we are the one that has the best organization … I knew this was going to be a long journey, but to suggest that the campaign is terminal? Come on. That is pretty funny.”

Mr. Wynn said Mr. Bush could have been more nimble in the debate, seizing on chances the way some of the younger candidates did.

“I wish we had gone after the moderators like Cruz and Rubio did. I feel like people felt like we missed a chance to land a couple of punches that we should have,” Mr. Wynn said, adding that it is not the end of the world.

“Looking at it just from a South Carolina perspective, I feel like we are better organized then everyone else,” he said. “I really don’t see this as some kind of death watch.”

Fritz Brogan, another Bush bundler, said contributors are also still enthusiastic about the campaign. He was co-hosting a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., Thursday night for the Florida Republican that had a waiting list, “with people asking today to contribute to attend.”

“I’m supporting him not because he’s the fad of the week but because he is the most conservative and accomplished candidate in the race,” Mr. Brogan said in an email. “Supporters’ morale is high and we know when the dust settles, primary voters will realize Jeb is our best option to defeat Hillary.”

New Hampshire state Sen. Russell Prescott, who endorsed Mr. Bush, also downplayed the fallout from the debate, saying that his “credentials and his demeanor will shine through” over the coming weeks and months.

“I believe that he did a fine job because when you are on a stage right there with the people you are competing against it is very fine line between trying to be considerate and also getting your message across,” Mr. Prescott said. “I think he got his message across and he was considerate. If that type of behavior is not admired, I am dismayed.”

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