Republican presidential candidate Gov. Jeb Bush looked to jumpstart his campaign on familiar turf Monday, emphasizing his record as Florida’s governor and attacking critics and pundits who say his candidacy is on life support.
Bush started his four-day “Jeb Can Fix It” tour by making a three-city swing through Florida with events in Tampa, Winter Park and Jacksonville, where he sought to make clear to his base that rumors of his demise are greatly exaggerated. As he ended his speech in Tampa and shook hands with supporters, Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ blared from the speakers.
“When the dust clears and the delegates are counted, we’re going to win this campaign,” Bush said to an outburst of applause and raucous chants of “Jeb! Jeb! Jeb!”
Later during a brief stop in Winter Park, Bush emphasized policy over politics. He touted his commitment to education programs that help people with disabilities and toured the Conductive Education Center of Orlando, visiting with children, parents and staff.
“Everybody is an asset in a society; everybody can make a contribution,” he said.
Referring to his work with the Florida Legislature to fund programs such as the McKay Scholarship, Bush said, “I venture to say, because of the catalyst of my first year in office, that the programs for disabilities, for education, for health, for services, is significantly better than many states.”
Florida, however, is still facing a federal lawsuit for underfunding Medicaid, which doctors and children’s advocates claim resulted in inadequate care to needy and disabled children.
Bush’s “Jeb Can Fix It” tour is aimed at highlighting his accomplishments as governor and rebooting what’s viewed as an underwhelming presidential campaign, marred by low poll numbers and lackluster debate performances.
I turned the political culture in Tallahassee upside down. I’m putting the Beltway on notice. I’ll turn Washington upside down, too.
Though he subtly panned his most recent debate performance — “As you may have heard, last week I was in Colorado for the third Republican presidential debate,” he said in Tampa to laughs — Bush assured his supporters that vision, and not debate soundbites, would ultimately win the race.
Bush told reporters in Winter Park he plans to fix his campaign, too, on the tour “by campaigning with heart, by telling my story... doing what I have been doing, but doing it in a way that convinces people we can fix these big, complex problems in Washington.”
Bush brought with him Monday several state politicians — including Attorney General Pam Bondi, former Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, state Rep. Richard Corcoran and Winter Park Congressman John Mica — who used “Captain America” metaphors and biblical analogies to reinforce Bush’s campaign message that he’s about action and results, not flashy rhetoric like other presidential candidates.
“If you want to measure the depth of an individual, you look at his actions, not at what he says,” said Jennings, who served under Bush from 2003-07. “
Bush did not shy away from throwing jabs at his GOP opponents.
In Tampa, he knocked businessman and TV personality Donald Trump, noting, “You can’t just tell Congress, ‘You’re fired,’ and go to commercial break,” while also criticizing senators running in the race — which would include fellow Floridian and one-time ally Sen. Marco Rubio — as moving from one end of Washington to the other.
“I turned the political culture in Tallahassee upside down,” Bush said. “I’m putting the Beltway on notice. I’ll turn Washington upside down, too.”
In Winter Park, he also lobbed an indirect, but not-so-subtle, jab at Rubio’s poor attendance record in the U.S. Senate. Bush praised Mica for briefly attending his campaign stop before leaving to catch a plane back to Washington for scheduled votes in the House.
“I just want to make sure you go back to vote. That’s what you were elected to do, and you have a great attendance record,” Bush told Mica, chuckling.
Corcoran — a Land O’Lakes representative who’s designated to be the next Florida House speaker starting in November 2016 — joined Bush to announce his endorsement for the former governor.
Corcoran, who was Rubio’s legislative chief of staff, had previously not taken sides in the presidential race, but on Monday, he declared Bush “without question, the most courageous conservative in this race.”
“When you ask yourself who you think should be the leader of the free world, the absolute easiest decision for me was to say it should be Gov. Jeb Bush,” Corcoran told reporters in Winter Park. “It’s not against anybody else; it’s absolutely a statement for who I know can lead this country and put us back on a path to greatness.”
When asked by the Herald/Times whether he’d spoken to Rubio about his endorsement of Bush, Corcoran initially hesitated to answer, calling it “personal.”
“No, I have,” he then said. “Of course, I have. Marco’s a friend. Of course, I’d give him that dignity. I explained to him, as he knows full well, that I have tremendous respect for Marco… It’s nothing against Marco Rubio, nothing at all.”