JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—Jeb Bush hit the reset button on his faltering presidential campaign, racing across Florida Monday with a new slogan that cast him as the sole Republican candidate who can right what’s wrong with Washington: “Jeb Can Fix It.”
But the pithy phrasing could apply as much to his effort to steady the campaign as it does to his sense of confidence about handling the nation’s problems.
“This is not about big personalities on the stage. It’s not about talking. It’s about doing,” the two-term Florida governor told supporters in Jacksonville, the last of three stops for the day.
His remarks, repeated earlier in Tampa and Orlando, were obvious jabs at rivals Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, and a nod to his flat performance in the debate last week in Colorado.
Bush’s reset comes as a populist surge has propelled the outsider campaigns of bombastic developer Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson — and created an opportunity for Rubio, a freshman senator from Florida and former Bush protege, to make his appeal to the party establishment
He and Rubio spent Monday jockeying for institutional credentials. Bush announced the backing of soon-to-be Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who was chief of staff to Rubio when he was speaker. Rubio countered with an endorsement from freshman U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, who took a veiled swipe at the Bush legacy by saying the nation needs a “new generation” of leaders.
What seemed last summer like the right slogan to carry Bush into the final three months of the pre-primary campaign now has an off-key ring, underscored by a cascade of criticism in online forums, including Twitter.
Even in his home state of Florida, Bush has a steep climb. Statewide polls show Trump leading the large GOP field, with Carson and Rubio ahead of Bush.
Surrounded Monday by friends and former colleagues, Bush delivered a morning speech in Tampa that amounted to re-declaring his candidacy, without changing his message or significantly altering his campaign strategy. Bush recently announced an across-the-board cut in salaries to protect his available campaign cash for the final charge into Iowa.
“But let me be clear: I’m not stepping into the role of ‘angry agitator’ that they have created for us, because it’s not what’s in my heart,” Bush said, a nod to the frustration Trump has stoked.
Bush is making some tactical changes, such as spending more sustained time in early voting Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
But the message, an experienced conservative executive is needed to succeed Democrat Barack Obama, a one-term senator before becoming president, does not appear to be changing. Nor does Bush’s dry, matter-of-fact, and at times self-deprecating delivery.
No need to change, said Will Bissette, a 75-year-old Tampa real-estate investor who was among the 200 or so in the auditorium.
“It’s still early,” said Bissette. “Jeb’s recognizing what he needs to do.”
Kicking off this leg of his campaign in Florida, surrounded by former statehouse colleagues and supporters made sense strategically, said Todd Josko, a 47-year-old communications consultant from Tampa. But it especially made for a warm reception for Bush facing a time of trial, Josko said.
“Home cooking cures all ills,” Josko said, adding that people will look back on Monday, “as the day the campaign turned around.”
The crowd skewed older, though Bush was backed by risers full of younger and diverse supporters, many waving signs with the new slogan.
“After seven years of incompetence, corruption and gridlock in Washington, we need a president who can fix it,” Bush said. “I can fix it.
And in a show of quiet confidence more hidden in recent weeks, Bush assured his audience he had the stomach for the fight.
“I’m running this campaign on my own terms. And let me tell you something, when the dust clears and the delegates are counted, we’re going to win this campaign,” Bush said, igniting cheers and chants throughout the audience: “Jeb! Jeb! Jeb!”