Jeb Bush

Sputtering Jeb Bush campaign downsizes Miami headquarters

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush arrives onstage to participate at a forum in North Las Vegas on Wednesday.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush arrives onstage to participate at a forum in North Las Vegas on Wednesday. LAS VEGAS SUN VIA AP

Jeb Bush shrank the size of his Miami presidential campaign operations Friday and cut staff salaries across the board in the most serious acknowledgment yet that his campaign needs a new direction as the one-time frontrunner has failed to get traction in the race.

His Miami field office, recently inaugurated at 5430 SW Eighth St. in Coral Gables, will remain open. It’s run by a single paid employee now and serves mostly as a hub for volunteers.

Bush’s headquarters, at 9250 W. Flagler St., will downsize to a skeleton crew.

Only a quarter of Bush’s staff will remain in Miami, according to an internal campaign memo. Another 25 percent is already working in early caucus and primary states; most of the remaining people on the payroll will be offered positions in those states or elsewhere in operations, but with pay cuts, says the memo, which was first reported by Bloomberg Politics. Campaign manager Danny Diaz and senior adviser Sally Bradshaw met with employees Friday and informed donors in a conference call.

All but the lowest-paid staff will also get a pay cut, in an effort to reduce overall payroll costs by 40 percent, and travel costs will be slashed by 20 percent. The budget for everything unrelated to advertising or reaching out to voters will get cut 45 percent. The campaign didn’t release exact numbers but finance reports show it has between 100 and 150 people on the payroll (some are consultants).

“We are making changes today to ensure Jeb is best positioned to win the nomination and general election,” campaign spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said in a statement. “Jeb is the one candidate with a proven conservative record, bold ideas and the strong leadership needed to fix the problems America faces. We are moving our resources into the states to ensure that voters in primary and caucus states are introduced to his record and vision for the future.”

Bush will pay special attention to New Hampshire, the first primary state — after the Iowa caucuses — and the one where he may have the best shot at a win.

The memo indicates a shift in Bush’s message: from telling what his campaign has called “the Florida story” to pitching himself as the man to “fix” Washington. Some of his leading competitors, such as real-estate mogul Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, are unorthodox candidates from outside politics.

The shake-up, Bush’s second after tightening budgets and reining in some salaries over the summer, comes two days before Bush gathers with top political donors in Houston — with his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and his brother, former President George W. Bush.

Some donors had pressed Jeb Bush in recent weeks to restructure or refocus his operation, particularly after Bush was outraised in the most recent quarter by Ben Carson — and found he has about the same amount of cash left in the bank as hometown rival Marco Rubio, about $10 million. Bush’s spending rate has been high, a problematic indicator after another contender initially viewed as formidable, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, withdrew in part because he had burned through a lot of money very quickly.

Worried donors have said privately that they’re concerned about Bush’s continued drop in early public-opinion polls. The man running the super PAC backing Bush, longtime Bush adviser Mike Murphy, has maintained those polls don’t matter yet. But to assuage donors’ fears, the Right to Rise USA super PAC began airing a national cable-television ad on Fox News this week — the kind of move Murphy had previously dismissed as a waste of money.

Bush ads have been airing for about a month in early-voting states, with little benefit to the candidate’s poll numbers.

Federal law bars campaigns from coordinating with super PACs. Yet Right to Rise has invited Bush contributors to a separate set of meetings — also in Houston, on the same days as the campaign retreat.

The campaign insists Bush is well-positioned to outlast his rivals, though it concedes 2016 has proved to be a far different race than Team Bush intended to run.

“We are in this campaign to win,” the memo says. “We are unapologetic about adjusting our game plan to meet the evolving dynamics of this race to ensure that outcome.”

Miami Herald staff writer Amy Sherman contributed to this report.