Kicking off his campaign Wednesday for the South Carolina GOP presidential primary, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush pitched himself as a candidate with “backbone” who was not beholden to opinion polls.
Currently polling at just 10 percent among South Carolina Republicans and coming off a fourth-place finish in New Hampshire’s primary Tuesday, Bush appealed to his father George H.W. Bush’s “peace through strength” military strategy and said he would lead “kind of like my brother (George W. Bush) after 9/11.”
Bush’s first campaign stop Wednesday, in the Bluffton retirement community of Sun City, drew a crowd of hundreds, even with a biting cold wind whipping through the outdoor pavilion.
Linda Chichanowicz, an undecided primary voter, said she was excited to hear Bush’s presentation. Still, she said she worried he might get drowned out in the boisterous crowd of GOP contenders.
“I feel bad for him,” Chichanowicz said. “It’s been a rough campaign for him.”
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a former contender in the 2016 race, introduced Bush at campaign stops in Bluffton, Mount Pleasant and Murrells Inlet on Wednesday, presenting him both as an ardent military backer and as a shrewd statesman who could broker details in Congress.
“We don’t need to replace incompetent with crazy,” Graham said in Bluffton, the first of many jabs against South Carolina GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.
Bush’s Bluffton speech focused on defeating ISIS, keeping Social Security financially solvent by gradually raising the retirement age and passing a balanced-budget law in Washington.
Later, at the Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park Visitor Center, with a smear of ash on his forehead in observance of Ash Wednesday, Bush defended his status as a firmly anti-abortion candidate. He also expounded on his record in education as former governor of Florida, crediting strides in student performance to teacher bonuses, a focus on literacy before third grade and a voucher program that allows families in failing schools to take state funds to private schools.
“Teachers’ unions hate me,” he boasted, earning applause from the packed room.
Bush supporters across the state said they favored the candidate’s calm disposition to Trump’s bluster. Charleston resident Carter Falk, 17, said Bush had already won his vote.
“He’s the only one who has a shiny-day sort of message,” Falk said. “Everyone’s kind of clinging to the angst of America.”
Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546 or twitter.com/paul_bowers.