COLUMBUS, Ohio — Republican White House prospect Jeb Bush kicked off a speech to business leaders on Tuesday with a series of personal recollections, saying he’s his “own person.”
The former Florida governor, who’s the son of ex-President George H.W. Bush and the brother of ex-President George W. Bush, brought his all-but-declared 2016 presidential bid to the swing state after making a courtesy call to Republican Gov. John Kasich, who’s also weighing a presidential run.
Bush delivered an address to the Ohio Chamber of Commerce’s sold-out annual meeting before heading to a fundraiser in Cincinnati.
He told the crowd he’s blessed to be the son of one president and the brother of another but “I’m also my own person. I’ve lived my own life.”
He talked of having a new grandchild and of how he fell in love with his wife. He described meeting her in Mexico when he was 17 and falling madly in love.
“It was head-over-heels in love. It was I-lose-20-pounds-in-three-weeks in love, I-couldn’t-sleep in love. It was a transformative event in my life, and she didn’t see it quite that way,” he said to laughs. “Her first reaction was, ‘You’re too tall.”’
American Bridge, a pro-Hillary Clinton super political action committee, knocked Bush’s choice of venue as favoring business over middle-class workers, including those tied to the auto industry, whose bailout he opposed.
Ohio is one of two general-election states Bush has visited over the past week, showing he’s looking at a long-term campaign strategy that could take him beyond the GOP primary.
Bush acknowledged that sharing his personal experiences will be key to any successful run for the presidency. That’s particularly true when it comes to Ohio, a must-win for any Republican seeking the White House.
After the personal touches, Bush delivered a wide-ranging, policy-heavy talk in which he laid out his high-growth strategy for the economy and highlighted his achievements as Florida governor, which included cutting taxes, bolstering entrepreneurship and pushing educational reforms such as a 3rd-grade reading guarantee that’s since caught on in Ohio and other states.
“I guess what I’m saying is that you can apply conservative principles in a way that is open, where you’re trying to build consensus, where you’re not focused on getting on the food fight but you’re trying to achieve a strategy, and you can move the needle,” he said.
He said he rejected the idea that Washington “is so broken that it can’t be fixed, that our country is in decline and that the divide will never be rebuilt.”
Reflecting on criticism that he’s too moderate to win a Republican primary, he said he doesn’t intend to change himself or his views if he runs.
“There are views that I have that apparently are unorthodox,” he said. “What am I going to do, go in a witness protection program or something?”
After the speech, he had little to say on the entry of Clinton, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Republican senator and a protege, into the race.