WOLFEBORO, N.H. — Jeb Bush has a new rasp in his voice, thanks to a little more shouting on the stump. And he’s punctuating his points a little more often with a well-placed, PG-rated curse word.
The former Florida governor is trying to reboot a campaign for president mocked by his most notable rival as “low-energy” by providing a new burst of enthusiasm. But as he pounded across New Hampshire this week, Bush was working even harder at something beyond a zestier stage presence.
It’s having the patience to wait out the anger among voters that’s boosted billionaire Donald Trump to the head of the Republican race for president. It’s keeping his faith that the anger will evolve into clear-eyed decision-making in less than three months, when the voting gets started in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“You’ve got to give people a chance to make a point about what they feel, their frustrations,” Bush said aboard his campaign bus on Wednesday. “They’re making their point right now. But ultimately they’re going to elect a president.”
And that’s why, despite the higher volume and somewhat more colorful language, Bush’s much-touted campaign reset finds him sticking with the fundamentals of his pitch.
“It’s not about the personalities on the stage. It’s not about if you’ve got a quick, you know, wit or your sound bite is perfect,” he told a group of about 75 voters in Moultonborough. “It’s about leadership.”
In Florida, South Carolina and especially on a three-day trip across New Hampshire that wraps up Thursday, Bush has strayed not an inch from the policy-heavy message he’s offered since his campaign’s launch last summer. At its core is an argument that the U.S. can unshackle its economy by increasing talent-based immigration, reducing regulation and embracing the nation’s natural energy resources.
“Two percent growth? It means more people stuck in poverty! It means 1 in 5 children on food stamps!” he told more than 200 voters at a Tuesday evening cookout. “That’s the new normal? I hope you agree with this, that we need to reject that out of hand!”
While Bush said it with a new hoarseness in his voice at an event sponsored by former Sen. Scott Brown in a picturesque barn near New Hampshire’s seacoast, he still followed up — as he has for months — with his hopeful refrain that America is “on the verge of greatness.
“That’s what I believe,” he said. “I believe I can see what the future looks like.”
Bush’s swing thought New Hampshire comes after a weak debate performance in Colorado last week, when a planned attack on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio fell flat and he got less time to talk than almost any of the candidates on stage. Last weekend, Bush admitted he needed to improve — and fast — as a candidate if he had any hope to regain his place atop the field of more than a dozen GOP candidates for president.
“I got to get better. I know I’ve got to get better,” Bush said during a stop in Iowa.
Bush senior adviser Sally Bradshaw said Wednesday that means “we’re going to let Jeb be Jeb” — encouraging Bush to show off his personality’s combination of dry humor and irony and a policy wonk’s fix-it attitude. And sticking with the message he’s had all along.
On Wednesday, Bush engaged a feisty accountant from Hollis, who attended a Bush event at an iconic local pharmacy and challenged his focus on tax cuts. “Lowering taxes on the wealthy does not create jobs,” Bob Bettilyon barked at Bush.
Bush firmly replied, citing as he has for months his tenure as Florida’s governor. “I’m a guy who balanced eight straight budgets, and created $8 billion in reserves,” Bush said. “I cut taxes every year and personal income grew by 4.4 percent.”
It was a common line from Bush’s typical presentation, and it earned applause from the 100 or so gathered at the store. After the confrontation, Bush approached Bettilyon, saying: “Lighten up. Put a smile on your face.”
Bettilyon conceded, “I did like you saying American had a future. That’s the first positive thing I’ve heard from Republicans.”
Kirsten Balon, from Pembroke, who came to see Bush in Moultonborough, said she would be disappointed if Bush were to change his approach just to win.
“I like that he says the same thing. I want to feel confident that he believes what he says,” said Balon, who is leaning toward supporting Bush in the primary.
Later in Wolfeboro, Barbara Hunt of Wolfeboro said Bush does not dazzle but he doesn’t appear to be trying to be something he’s not.
“You have to be yourself,” said Hunt. “He seems to believe in what he’s doing, and in what he says.”
Closing his remarks in Wolfeboro, Bush seemed to ask voters to accept him as one of them, an imperfect candidate with the willingness to improve.
“I know I can get better each and every day. I’m imperfect under God’s watchful eye,” Bush said. “I know I can get better. And I believe that this country is going to get better.”