Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush prepares to launch candidacy, regain lost momentum

Soon-to-be presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks last week at the CDU Economics Conference of the Economic Council in Berlin.
Soon-to-be presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks last week at the CDU Economics Conference of the Economic Council in Berlin. GETTY IMAGES

The best political campaign logos convey a feeling or a message, a memorable bit of information about the candidate running for office.

Jeb Bush is going with his old standard — “Jeb!” — to harken back to his tenure as Florida governor (critics claim to avoid spelling out “Bush”).

But will his campaign be worthy of an exclamation point?

Bush will try to energize his supporters Monday when he formally launches his 2016 campaign in Miami, after spending six months exploring a candidacy but failing to position himself comfortably ahead of a crowded and ambitious Republican field that so far boasts 10 candidates, without counting Bush.

“I thought Jeb would take up all the oxygen,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a potential candidate, said in New Hampshire earlier this month. “He hasn’t.”

To be sure, Bush has scored big political donors. But he hasn’t scared off other challengers. He’s stumbled trying to distance himself from his brother’s unpopular Iraq war. And he’s struggled to reintroduce himself to GOP voters in a party much changed since his last time on the ballot 12 years ago.

“It will take time. It always does,” Bush told CNN’s “State of the Union” in an interview aired Sunday.

Monday at Miami Dade College’s Kendall campus, Bush will portray himself as a doer, a politician who put conservative ideas into action in a diverse state and who seeks public office to govern rather than pontificate. He will then take his pitch on the road, visiting New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina between Tuesday and Thursday.

“This is what leadership is about — it’s not just about yapping about things,” he said in a campaign video unveiled Sunday. “There are a lot of people talking, and they’re pretty good at it. We need to start fixing things. I said I was going to do these things and I did them, and the result was Florida is a lot better off.”

One of those “people talking” is U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the other Republican presidential hopeful from Miami and Bush’s one-time mentee, whose standing in public-opinion polls has been climbing since he kicked off his own campaign in April at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami. In a jab at Rubio and three other senators running for president, Bush has contrasted Tallahassee to Washington and is expected to further highlight that theme moving forward.

The Florida story, as Bush tells it, is one of economic prosperity as a result of small-government policies and reforms to education and social services. The Sunday video portrays Bush — much as brother George W. Bush did when he ran for president in 2000 — as a compassionate leader looking out for people who need help.

That includes minorities — a key Jeb Bush constituency, given that he has advocated for growing the GOP to appeal to more African Americans and Hispanics. It’s no accident that Bush’s announcement will take place at Miami Dade College, the nation’s largest and most diverse college.

A broader party matters for the general election. Yet Bush first needs to combat the perception among Republican primary voters that he’s not conservative enough. He trumpets a conservative record as governor, but Bush’s eight years in Tallahassee came before the Tea Party, and he has not endeared himself to that faction by maintaining positions in favor of immigration reform and of Common Core educational standards.

In a tacit acknowledgment that his pre-campaign didn’t go as well as planned, Bush named a campaign manager last week that was not the one first eyed for the job. Danny Diaz, a hard-charging Washington political consultant who had been advising Bush on media strategy, will run the show instead of David Kochel, an Iowa strategist who now will lead Bush’s strategy in early primary states. Bush’s senior advisor will remain longtime confidante Sally Bradshaw in Tallahassee; another advisor, Mike Murphy, based in Los Angeles, took over Bush’s Right to Rise political action committee and will handle it separate from the campaign.

Bush spent the last week on a five-day tour of Germany, Poland and Estonia, brushing up his foreign-policy credentials and showing that he’s capable of handling overseas meetings and press conferences without making the kind of gaffes that have tripped up other would-be candidates. Aware that as a self-described “introvert” he doesn’t provide many sound bites or much soaring rhetoric, Bush maintained that he will do the grunt work of meeting voters in small settings and jostling with reporters.

“People make up their minds in the last weeks of these primaries,” Bush said in the CNN interview. “My expectation is we’ll have slow, steady progress. That’s been the expectation all along.”

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