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Trump Upends New Hampshire Tradition Of Retail Politics

By Michael C. Bender, Bloomberg News (TNS)

In one of the many jokes about New Hampshire that U.S. Sen. John McCain likes to tell, one voter asks another for thoughts about a presidential candidate. “I don’t know,” the second voter says. “I’ve only met him twice.”

“That’s been the reality of winning a primary in New Hampshire,” McCain said about the joke in an interview. “Up until this campaign, they want to have contact with the candidate.”

What’s new this campaign, of course, is Donald Trump, who has eschewed the state’s traditional political customs, which often require a candidate to grind through months of meeting voters one-on-one at house parties and town hall meetings. Instead, Trump remains perched atop state polls with a campaign strategy that has relied on cable news coverage and the candidate’s entertaining monologues at well-attended rallies.

“New Hampshire folks have to be concerned about that,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican presidential candidate, said in an interview after a campaign event on Thursday in Boscawen, N.H. “If they reward a candidate who flies in here, does a rally, and signs some hats and leaves — you can do that in any state. It doesn’t have to be here.”

Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have spent so much time in New Hampshire, they might be considered honorary residents. Yet none were among the top three two choices in a pair of New Hampshire polls released Sunday by Fox News and CBS.

The top spots belonged to Trump, who has led every New Hampshire poll since July; Ted Cruz, who has spent more time campaigning in Iowa; and Marco Rubio, whose infrequent visits last year cost him potential endorsements.

In an email exchange with Bloomberg Politics on Friday, Bush said he was confident that Granite State voters wouldn’t reward Trump, who Bush said “helicopters in” for New Hampshire events.

“I have too much faith in the people I’ve met the last six months, who have put me through the ringer, to believe they would support someone who helicopters in and tears down POWs, the disabled, and doesn’t have respect for their vote,” Bush wrote.

Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, is a New Hampshire resident who has worked as a state director for Americans for Prosperity, a tea party group founded by Republican financiers Charles and David Koch. He also managed U.S. Sen. Bob Smith’s unsuccessful re-election bid in the state in 2002.

Trump regularly meets privately with small groups of Republicans and influential activists before rallies, Lewandowski said in an interview. But the strategy to win the Feb. 9 primary has been to get his boss in front of as many people as possible; Trump’s campaign rallies often draw thousands of people, which Lewandowski said is a signal that Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan is resonating.

“Should I go to the Dunkin’ Donuts and see three people, when I have to opportunity to see 6,000?” Lewandowksi said in an interview. “Chris Christie has done, whatever, 152 town halls? He’s seen less people in 152 town halls than Donald Trump sees in one.”

Still, Trump has had seven events in the state in the past two months, plus another rally during that time in nearby Lowell, Mass. Bush had seven events on Friday and Saturday. Christie, who has spent more than 60 days in the past year, scheduled his wife, Mary Pat, for six campaign events this past weekend when he returned to New Jersey.

“I would never have won New Hampshire if I hadn’t done 144 town hall meetings,” said McCain, who beat George W. Bush there in 2000 and resuscitated his floundering campaign with a primary victory in the state in 2008.

“The people of New Hampshire are the most sophisticated voters I’ve ever encountered,” McCain said. “They pride themselves on viewing all the candidates before making up their minds. And, frankly, that could only be true of a state with its size and its position in the primary calendar.”

New Hampshire’s role in the presidential process long has been targeted by critics who complain the state plays an outsized role in the selecting the parties’ nominees. And it’s a critical time for the state’s reputation to be demystified.

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, has repeatedly indicated his willingness to reshuffle the order of nominating contests, telling National Journal in September there are no “sacred cows” in the primary calendar. And other states regularly jockey to compete with New Hampshire’s early status.

The state has just 1.3 million people — among the smallest in the nation, and about half the size of Miami-Dade County, home to Bush and fellow presidential contender U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. New Hampshire’s population is 95 percent white, compared to the rest of the country which is about 12 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic.

“Currently, a small, non-diverse group of citizens (the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire) have a disproportionate impact on the nomination of presidential candidates,” Rubio wrote in his 2006 book, “100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future,” which advocated for pushing Florida — and its more diverse population — closer to the top of the primary calendar.

Andy Smith, a University of New Hampshire political science professor and director of the college’s Survey Center, said it’s too early to fret about New Hampshire’s standing. Part of the reason is that winning the first primary doesn’t necessarily mean becoming the next president.

None of past three presidents — Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — won the state’s primary before being elected president, Smith pointed out. And candidates who spend the most time New Hampshire regularly lose, including Lindsey Graham and George Pataki, who have dropped out of the current race, John Huntsman in 2012, and Joe Lieberman in 2004.

“One reason candidates spend a lot of time here is because they don’t have broad coalitions in the party, and they really don’t have much money to campaign in other states,” Smiths said in an interview. “So it’s not like you campaign here because you want to. You campaign here exclusively because you have to.”

Tom Rath, a veteran Republican strategist in New Hampshire who is advising Kasich’s campaign, said a Trump and his celebrity present a “rather unique case” for the state. He said the results New Hampshire, which makes its easy to participate in its primary, will give a better idea of a candidate’s viability.

“The kind of campaigning we’re doing and Bush and Christie are doing — and Rubio less so, but still a fair amount — is still very potent,” Rath said. “And if you don’t do it here, you’re never going to do it.”

©2016 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Senator John McCain speaks during the inauguration ceremony of the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence (StratCom COE) in Riga, Latvia, August 20, 2015. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Republican Voters Say The Clock Is Ticking On Jeb Bush’s Would-Be Comeback

By Michael C. Bender, Bloomberg News (TNS)

Standing in a small middle-school gymnasium on a snowy New Hampshire morning, Jeb Bush listened and nodded as a man decked out in New England Patriots gear listed four separate reasons that the son and brother of former presidents may fail to follow the family into the White House.

There was (1) Bush’s support for Common Core, the education standards that have become anathema to the conservative base of the party, and (2) his call to legalize many of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants at a time when the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, says he’d deport them all. There’s (3) the anxiety among voters about a third Bush president and (4) the “low energy” criticism from Trump that the former Florida governor has been unable to shake.

By now, Bush knows the list by heart, and even saw fit at the Hampstead rally to volunteer a fifth obstacle to his comeback bid: that he’s widely considered a key member of the Republican establishment at a time when the party’s voters are seeking change.

“People want me to walk on the hot coals,” Bush said told crowd. “You have to go earn it, and that’s what I’m doing right here. I’m earning it.”

In an otherwise successful swing through New Hampshire this past weekend — Bush seemed to hit all his targets during a trio of town hall meetings, earning multiple standing ovations at an event in Hollis — one question kept surfacing: Despite a string of small victories in these intimate New Hampshire settings, part of the traditional formula to win the state, would it be it enough in such a chaotic political climate?

New Hampshire could either prove to be a miraculous springboard or the final trap door for Bush’s political fortunes. With just three weeks remaining until the primary, the one-time front-runner who has plummeted in the polls is finding oddsmakers and even would-be supporters doubtful about his viability.

“I lived in New York on 9/11, and I have all the respect in the world for his brother,” Ella Reap, a real estate agent in Nashua, N.H., said after Bush’s town hall on Friday. “After listening to him tonight, I think he’d keep us safe, too. But I don’t want to waste my vote.”

Bob Beckett, who carries a business card that identifies himself as a registered New Hampshire voter, told Bush on Friday that he’d attended at least five Bush campaign events.

“I’ve actually seen you grow pretty significantly as a candidate,” Beckett told him. “And I’m pretty happy to see that.”

But even Beckett couched the compliment with concern, asking whether Bush’s policy proposals could break through the outsized personalities dominating the race.

In Hampstead, one man pointed out that Bush was the front- runner just a year ago and asked, simply, “What happened?” In Amherst, a boy asked why Bush even wanted to be the head of a party that favored Trump.

Bush’s path back to the top of the polls depends almost exclusively on New Hampshire, where polls show him bunched up with four other candidates, fighting for second behind Trump. He said his two-day swing over the weekend was his 24th trip to the state.

Of course, there’s an open question about whether second place even matters. No Republican — or Democrat — has won a presidential nomination in the past four decades without finishing first in Iowa or New Hampshire.

And if Trump wins the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1 and New Hampshire’s primary on Feb. 9 — something no Republican has ever done without the power of incumbency — the businessman and former reality TV show host’s momentum may be next to impossible to stop.

But Iowa at the moment looks like a jump ball between Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz. And, in such an unusually crowded field, a strong second place finish in New Hampshire may provide momentum heading into South Carolina and Nevada before the calendar flips to March and the delegate race begins in earnest. In March, more than 30 states hold nominating contests, awarding 60 percent of the all the delegates in the five-month race.

Bush is banking that a breakout performance in New Hampshire will force Republican voters elsewhere to give his candidacy a second look. It’s tough to say exactly how Bush is doing as recent polls in the state vary wildly: A poll from Reach Communications on Jan. 7 showed him with 12 percent, good enough for second. Three days later, a Monmouth University survey put Bush in seventh place with 4 percent.

Bush is still able to convert doubters during his freewheeling town halls. Men and women who voice low expectations for Bush when they arrive at his event, often leave reassured — if not in his corner — after Bush stands for an hour fielding questions about Iran sanctions, the latest books he read, and everything in between.

“I liked Jeb Bush in the beginning,” Linda Meehan, 68, said after Bush’s town-hall meeting Saturday in Hampstead. “And when he wasn’t doing as well in the polls I decided to look at all the other candidates.

“Now, I’m coming back to Jeb Bush and hoping he will have a resurgence in the polls,” she said. “He is the true statesman. I just want people to wake up and see that the others — I call them performers — are not what the country needs.”

On Friday, in his first stop since picking up the endorsement of Sen. Lindsey Graham — the only former presidential candidate so far this year to back another contender — Bush had one of his best performances on the campaign trail.

He made a passionate argument for a more robust military presence; successfully juxtaposed his conservative record as Florida’s former governor with the gridlock and failures in Washington; earned applause for urging a young man to curse; and connected with one woman about being a picky food shopper and another about 1980s pop singer Pat Benatar.

And Bush’s latest strategy has been to directly attack Trump over the parade of insults he leveled in the race. It is something few other Republicans have been willing to do.

“Stop disparaging women, POWs, Hispanics, Muslims — the list is so long now, it’s more than 50 percent of the voters,” Bush said Friday about Trump. “It makes me think that maybe its going to be hard to win the election if you just keep pushing people down to make yourself look like the strongman.

“So if I’m the anti-Trump,” Bush continued, “that tries to restore some level of decency and policy orientation and character and leadership — true leadership, servant leadership — I love that role, because that’s who I am.”

Still, the challenges are many for Bush.

Jeff Wilson, a Nashua retiree, said he was excited to shake Bush’s hand, but he’s going to cast his vote on who he thinks can beat Trump in the primary and then Democrats in November. “Looking at the numbers, I’m thinking I have to go with someone like Rubio or Cruz,” he said. “It’s just numerical.”

“I’d rather have a governor be president,” Wilson continued. “But that doesn’t seem to be where the Republican electorate is this year. It’s a shame. That one fellow said he’s been to four or five outings, and he’d grown as a candidate? That may be, but the hour is getting late for that.”

Wilson’s wife, Ann, interrupted.

“I switched to Jeb after tonight,” she said. “He said he’s going to count on people like us in this state. He is so articulate, so smart, so well-meaning. You know what? I’ll get behind that. If we all did that?”

Jeff Wilson shrugged his shoulders.

“We saw Ben Carson in the same venue, too, and she said nice things about Ben Carson, too,” Wilson said about his wife. “He’s wise, quiet, principled man. But where is he now? You also have win, unfortunately.”

©2016 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks after being endorsed by Senator Lindsey Graham in North Charleston, South Carolina January 15, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane

 

Seeking South Carolina Foothold, Bush Wins Another Graham Backer

By Michael C. Bender, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Jeb Bush picked up more support for his presidential campaign in South Carolina on Thursday, signing up more than a dozen military veterans in the state and collecting another member of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s national security coalition.

Bush, the former Florida governor and son and brother of former presidents, now claims support from four members of Graham’s national security team, even as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio describes himself as having the best foreign policy resume in the Republican field. The campaign says it has endorsements from 22 supporters of Graham, who ended his presidential bid last month.

“The South Carolina endorsements are reflective of a campaign that’s worked hard at the grassroots level, and work is starting to pay off,” Sally Bradshaw, a senior Bush adviser, said in an interview.

Bradshaw said Bush has secured endorsements from more supporters of Graham because Bush is addressing their biggest concern: Donald Trump. “They want a serious candidate with strong plans for the future and who voters can trust with the presidency,” Bradshaw said. “Senator Graham certainly fit those criteria, and they’re moving to Governor Bush for those same reasons.”

In a CBS/YouGov pollreleased Dec. 20, Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz were leading the race in South Carolina, which holds the American South’s premier presidential primary and offers momentum to candidates before heading into Nevada’s caucuses on Feb. 23 and the hectic month of March, when more than 30 states and territories hold Republican presidential nominating contests. Bush placed fifth in the poll at 7 percent, within the margin of error with Rubio, who was third with 12 percent.

Bush’s new supporters in South Carolina include retired Gen. Melvin Zais, according to the campaign. The others are retired Brig. Gen. Butch Kirven, retired Maj. Gen. George Goldsmith and retired Col. David Lobb.

Bush’s team also announced backing from former South Carolina Education Superintendent Jim Roy, a retired chief master sergeant of the Army, and 14 other veterans. Support among veterans is crucial in an area with a politically influential military presence, which includes a swath of bases in the central and southern areas of the state.

“Our country is facing serious challenges and we need a serious, qualified leader as our next president,” Roy said in a statement. “Jeb Bush has proven that he has what it takes to be a strong and decisive commander in chief. Our country needs a president who understands, believes in and cares for our military. Jeb Bush will be that president.”

Bush’s performance in South Carolina’s primary on Feb. 20 — and that of his Republican rivals — may depend largely on the New Hampshire contest 11 days earlier. Trump is leading in New Hampshire, but Bush is in a fight for second place there, according to a survey by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling released Wednesday.

It’s a different story in Iowa, which holds the first nominating contest on Feb. 1. Bush is trailing badly in the state — a CBS/YouGov poll in mid-December showed him with just 2 percent. The former governor returns to the state for a campaign swing next week, and his allied super PAC, Right to Rise USA, has started to run negative ads in the state aimed at Rubio. The super PAC, which already has spent $50 million on TV ads on behalf of Bush, received another $10 million from Hank Greenberg, who built American International Group Inc. into the world’s largest insurer, according the Wall Street Journal. Greenberg, who told Bloomberg Politics in October that he was backing Bush, didn’t return messages seeking comment.

©2016 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks at the New Hampshire Forum on Addiction and Heroin Epidemic in Hooksett, New Hampshire, January 5, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

 

Jeb Bush Says He Opposes Closing Gitmo, Doesn’t Read New York Times

By Michael Bender, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Traveling through Texas on Thursday, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush aired his side of a live interview on Fox Radio by using a social media app known as Meerkat. He attracted more than 300 viewers while he weighed in on a handful of issues. Among them: Bush said he watches “Fox & Friends” in the morning, doesn’t read The New York Times, and said the U.S. should not continue “disparaging” Israel’s prime minister.

Here’s a roundup:

  • On closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility:

“The president is totally focused on closing Guantanamo as an organizing principle, and it’s all based on politics. It’s not based on keeping us safe, which should be his first obligation. We shouldn’t be closing Guantanamo. We shouldn’t be releasing Taliban that are openly organizing once again to attack us. This is just not the right policy.”

  • On James Baker, one of Bush’s foreign policy advisers, criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his lack of support for a two-state solution and the U.S.’s negotiations with Iran:

“(Baker) has a different view. I did not believe it was appropriate to go speak to J Street, a group that basically has anti-Israeli sentiments, but I have a vast array of people advising me and I’m honored that Jim Baker is doing so. The fact that I have people that I might not agree with on every subject advising me shows leadership, frankly. I don’t think we need monolithic thinking here.”

  • On Netanyahu’s opposition to a two-state solution:

“It turns out he didn’t quite say that. That was how the narrative was built here in the United States. What he said was as long as the Palestinians don’t recognize Israel, their right to have secure borders as a Jewish state, that a two-state solution is not possible. Look, Israeli politics is rough and tumble, maybe more so than here. And so, he apologized for what he said about Arab Israelis, and we should take him at his word. We shouldn’t be continuing to disparage him.”

  • On the desertion charges facing Sargent Bowe Bergdahl:

“My first reaction is to the people who lost their lives trying to get him back and their families that didn’t get the same attention from this administration and this president. It’s heartbreaking to think about people, the blood and treasure of our country, being lost in any circumstance. But to try to bring back someone who turns out to have been a deserter is just heartbreaking.”

  • On a perceived weakness with the evangelical base of the Republican Party:

“There are very few people that can actually tell that story the way that I can, because for eight years I served and consistently advocated my views on moral issues. This will all sort out. In order for a conservative to win, we have to unite the conservative cause, not divide ourselves up into spare parts, and then go after and persuade people that aren’t as conservative. I mean, we got to get to 50. Winning is what this should be about so that we can govern in a way that allows people to rise up again.”

  • On Senator Ted Cruz’s announcement this week that he’s running for president:

“He’s an articulate, good man. And everybody will have their chance to make their case going forward. He’s the only one that’s announced, and that may have been a smart move, but I’ll let others make the determination of who is the good candidate is, who can win and all of that.”

  • On lessons from Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful 2012 campaign:

“Governor Romney’s team thought that making this an election about a referendum on the president’s failed economic policies, exclusively focused on that, was enough. And I think the lesson learned is, yes, that’s important to point out the failures of a policy that has kept us down. But you also have to show who you are, and connect with people, and understand the plight that they’re in. And offer an alternative that is hopeful and optimistic, and give people a sense that if you’re elected you can fix things. I wish that Governor Romney was president of the United States….We’d be growing faster and people’s incomes would be growing and we would be safer internationally.”

Photo: Jeb Bush via Facebook

What We’ve Learned About Jeb Bush So Far

By Michael C. Bender, Bloomberg News (TNS)

Before this month, Jeb Bush hadn’t engaged with voters on his own behalf since 2002, when he won his second, and final, four-year term as Florida governor. Then, over the course of 17 days, the likely presidential candidate changed that by campaigning in each of the four states that hold the earliest presidential nominating contests. Bush’s team packed 400 supporters into a northwest Las Vegas community center. He introduced himself (but didn’t partake) at a pizza buffet in Iowa, attended a New Hampshire house party, and met with Republicans for breakfast at a Brazilian steakhouse in South Carolina.

The jaunt came as Bush eased off the gas of his fundraising blitz. (Bush is back at it this week, raising money in Philadelphia on Tuesday; in Dallas on Wednesday with his brother, former President George W. Bush; and in Houston on Thursday with his father, another former president, and mother.) Reporters were welcomed at six of the events over 11 days this month, and Bloomberg Politics was one of the few organizations to attend them all.

The whole swing had an old-home-week feel to it. The 62-year-old Bush has been campaigning in these states off and on since he was in his 20s, when his father, former President George H.W. Bush, was exploring a White House run. At the end of the four-state excursion, I asked Jeb Bush — who has never had much stomach for questions verging on psychoanalysis — about what he’d learned. “I’m learning along the way,” he said. “I’m determined to do it.”

What have we learned about the man and his burgeoning campaign? Here are a few scribbles from the notebook.

He doesn’t want to be a rock star.

Bush’s entourage is limited to the number of staff that fits into a rented SUV. Unlike many candidates who prefer the back seat, the 6-foot-4 former governor rides shotgun. There’s no law enforcement motorcade, no blaring music before he’s introduced. These seemingly benign details provide some insight into Bush, and an early strategy.

For one, Bush is low key. He’s described himself as an introvert and joked during an event in Myrtle Beach, S.C., that he struggles to promote himself out of fear that he’ll appear to be bragging, thereby invoking the wrath of his mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush.

“She’s back there, isn’t she?” Bush said, pointing behind himself without turning to look, as a couple hundred Horry County Republicans laughed. “I see her looming. Barbara Bush, with the gray hair and the pearls, is that her? She’s about ready to whack me across the ear, saying, ‘Don’t brag about yourself.’ I’ve got to overcome this and start doing what people in public life do, more often then they should.”

What’s clear is that this phase of the Bush campaign, or as he puts it, the “seriously-considering-the-possibility-of-running-for-president” stage, matches well with his personality. Bush’s team is leveraging his strengths and he’s positioning himself as a low-key policy leader. It also creates a favorable contrast with President Barack Obama, who conservatives contend is more of a celebrity than a leader, and his brother, who never sold himself as a policy wonk and traveled with a sizable staff from the start of his first presidential campaign.

He’s smart, and that could be a weakness.

First, the clear upside. Bush fielded at least 50 questions from audience members over the course of the six days, plus 20 or so from reporters, including one in Las Vegas who asked her questions — and got her answers — in Spanish, and there is basically no blooper reel.

Bush generally answered each question as thoroughly as he could, and there were exactly zero gaffes, certainly nothing resembling the missteps on vaccinations or Obama’s patriotism that his theoretically more practiced potential rivals have had to clean up.

If there was a miscalculation, it was a sartorial one. On St. Patrick’s Day in the exceedingly charming South Carolina city called, ahem, Greenville, Bush showed up to the first event without wearing anything approaching a shade of emerald, chartreuse or lime. By that afternoon, heading into a news conference with Governor Nikki Haley, Bush had swapped out his bright blue tie for something more appropriate.

It bears mentioning that Bush’s performance came before mostly friendly crowds. Few national reporters attended his first retail event at the Mountain Shadows Community Center in northwest Las Vegas, after his team sent out a news release with only about 24 hours notice. One question Bush took at that event came from a woman who asked him to please repeat awonderful answer she saw him give on Fox News a few days earlier.

The slight risk with Bush’s wonkiness is that crowds can zone out when he answers policy-driven questions with granular detail. That happened when Bush was asked about net neutrality during an event at the Pizza Ranch in Cedar Rapids, Iowa — many in the audience where starting at the ceiling or fidgeting with their phones after a few minutes.

“The idea of regulating access to the Internet with a 1934 law,” Bush said, “is one of the craziest ideas I think I’ve ever heard.” Regardless of where you fall on net neutrality, it’s hard to imagine many who would include anyFCC policy in alist of craziest-things-ever.

What you see …

There’s no question Bush is skilled, in his own way, on the stump. He’s been through these early states many times as a “blocking guard,” as he described it, for other presidential candidates, including his brother and father.But there’s a reason he spends more time answering questions from the crowd than trying to deliver a stem-winder. (In Greenville, he spoke for only about five minutes before opening it up to questions.) He’s never been that great at the rousing, inspirational speech, even as governor. “If you’ve ever seen me read a TelePrompTer, I’m pretty stinky at it,” Bush said in Myrtle Beach. “This is all I got.”

Yet there was no real awkwardness as Bush spent a few minutes at each event shaking hands and smiling for selfies. He did his best to charm, slapping backs with supporters and saying, “God bless you,” to those who say they voted for his father or brother. It’s an open question the last time that Bush frequented a pizza buffet, but in Iowa, he asked several times about where to find the chow. (Bush, who has shed weight in preparation of a campaign thanks to the Paleo Diet, left the event with some takeout salads, but no pizza.)

And Bush showed he’s not out of practice when it comes to delivering a solid quote, a skill that makes reporters happy and can stick in the minds of audience members. Here are a handful:

“I got to act on conservative principles, not just yap about ’em.” — Bush speaking in Las Vegas about his record as Florida governor from 1999 to 2007.

“Don’t insult me, I’m a governor.” — Bush, also in Vegas, after a member of the audience addressed him as “Senator.”

“We were goin’ and blowin’, let me tell you.” — Bush in Urbandale, Iowa, describing the long list of education changes he pushed through the Florida Legislature, including the nation’s first statewide school voucher program that was ultimately deemed unconstitutional.

“It’s going to be the Cookie Monster that you can’t stop.” — Also in Iowa, Bush characterized how debt service and entitlements may eventually consume the federal budget.

“The horns kind of subsided in me.” — Bush describing in Dover, N.H. how, after losing the governor’s race in 1994, he visited 250 schools and built relationships in the education world.

“The center needs to be rebuilt.” — Bush in Greenville, S.C., lamenting the partisan gridlock in Washington.

Bush also used these early state visits to try out a likely applause line for the lofty, emotional speech that he’ll have to give sooner or later.”If we fix a few big things,” Bush said after speaking for 15 minutes in Las Vegas, “this could be the greatest time to be alive in America’s history. And I honestly believe that. And I hope you do. And I hope that you urge, and beg, and cajole — however you want to do it, I hope you urge elected officials to begin to lead again.”

By his last public appearance in South Carolina, Bush had it streamlined.

“If we get this right, we can restore American greatness,” he said, “We can create an opportunity society again. It doesn’t matter where you came from, where you started in life. You can pursue the American dream just like everybody else. That’s worth fighting for.”

(c) 2015 Bloomberg News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Did Jeb Bush Go Far Enough To Try To Save Terri Schiavo To Save His Iowa Chances?

By Michael Bender, Bloomberg News (TNS)

Standing at the pulpit of his Sioux City, Iowa, mega-church a decade ago, the Rev. Cary Gordon wept over the death of Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman who had her feeding tubes removed more than 1,500 miles away in Florida. Now, the politician mostly closely associated with trying to keep her alive is coming to the state searching for support for his prospective presidential bid.

To much of the world, it appeared as if Jeb Bush, then the governor of Florida, stood his ground against those who wanted to take Schiavo off life support. But that’s not the picture that emerged for some in a crucial constituency in the state with the first presidential nominating contest.

“I’m displeased with Governor Bush,” Gordon said in an interview this week. “He could have informed law enforcement, called up the National Guard, or told the county sheriff’s office not to let it happen.”

Bush is campaigning in Iowa on Friday and Saturday, his first trip to the state in three years. Polls show tough sledding ahead for Bush as conservatives look askew at the former governor’s support for legalizing undocumented workers and his backing for the academic standards known as Common Core. Bush’s two-day swing includes a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. David Young, private meetings with conservative activists, and campaign-style events at an agricultural summit in Des Moines, a barbecue restaurant in Waukee, and a pizza place in Cedar Rapids.

Theoretically, Bush’s actions in the Schiavo case were supposed to be an antidote to his troubles with the conservative base. The strategy, as Bush and his allies have said, is to remind voters of his record in Florida, where he enjoyed strong approval ratings while implementing one of the most conservative agendas of any big-state governor.Much of that record should play well among born-again or evangelical Christians, who accounted for almost three of every five Iowa Republican caucus-goers in 2012.

As governor, Bush approved a partial-birth abortion ban, and a requirement for parental notification before terminating some pregnancies. He signed into law the National Rifle Association’s first stand-your-ground law allowing deadly force in self-defense.

But the issue that would seem to resonate most with Iowa social conservatives is his showdown with the state court system over a law to reinsert Schiavo’s feeding tubes. The debate over Schiavo’s life, during which Bush’s advisers included one of Mother Teresa’s attorneys, received the attention of newspapers and television stations across the country. The Vatican weighed in, as did and then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a physician who watched a videotape of Schiavo and gave his diagnosis from the chamber floor. Schiavo’s fate has been a topic in Republican presidential primary debates in the 2008 and 2012 cycles.

“Every caucus-going Republican over 30 is going to know the Schiavo story, and certainly our Christian evangelicals are going to be incredibly interested,” Iowa Republican Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in an interview. “And they’re going to want more detail about that.”

Getting that message out is crucial for Bush. His allies were privately thrilled with tough stories recently in the Tampa Bay Times and Politico that revisited the family tragedy, showing how the hard-charging Bush combined policy with his religious and moral beliefs to nearly lead the state into a constitutional crisis. At the Conservative Political Action Conference last week outside of Washington, Bush told the crowd he had no regrets over the fight.

“Here was a woman who was vulnerable,” Bush said. “And the court, because of our laws, they were going to allow her to be starved to death. So we passed a law, Terri’s Law, that was a year later ruled unconstitutional. I stayed within the law, but I acted on my core belief that the most vulnerable in our society should be in the front of the line. They should receive our love and protection, and that’s exactly what I did.”

But that may not be enough for some social conservatives in Iowa.

“Just because a judge wants to kill somebody, that doesn’t give them the authority to do it,” said Brian Rosenor, a former chairman of the Woodbury County, Iowa Republicans. “Two state troopers in front of her door would have saved her life. Jeb Bush could have done more.”

Bush faced similar calls in 2005, after exhausting legal options. “I would have gone to the clinic myself, with the state troopers, and I would have talked to the folks there, saying, ‘We’re going to put the tube back in,'” Pat Buchanan said on MSNBC in 2005. “She’s going to be fed, and she’s going to be given water.”

Schiavo was diagnosed as being in a “persistent vegetative state” after her heart stopped beating in 1990. With no legal will in place and a million-dollar medical malpractice settlement, the family was divided over treatment. The case gained national attention as court rulings favored Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband, who maintained that his wife would not have wanted to be kept alive with feeding tubes. Bush sided with Schiavo’s parents, who argued their son-in-law was an unfit guardian.

In 2005, the state sought court approval to take custody of Schiavo. Rumors circulated that Bush would use state lawmen to remove her from the hospital, so doctors could reinsert her feeding tubes. As lawyers for Schiavo’s husband equated such a move to kidnapping, Florida Circuit Judge George Greer, a Republican, issued an injunction, saying that it appeared state action was “imminent.” “I don’t want this thing turning into a donnybrook,” Greer said at the time. Bush abided by that decision.

Marlys Popma, a prominent right-to-life activist in Iowa, said she wanted to hear directly from Bush before coming to any conclusions.

“I prayed for her when she was going through that and her parents,” Pompa said in an interview. “We’re talking about life and death, and how far some is willing to go to protect that is really important.”

Photo: Former Governor Jeb Bush speaks at the 42nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Feb. 27, 2015 in National Harbor, Md. Conservative activists attended the annual political conference to discuss their agenda. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Jeb Bush Chooses To Be Cross-Examined At CPAC

By Michael Bender, Bloomberg News (TNS)

As the American Conservative Union puts final touches on its annual political conference next week, they’ve offered potential Republican presidential contenders the option of a moderated question-and-answer session instead speaking from a podium to the thousands of activists in attendance.

One White House aspirant taking the group up on the offer is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Republican sources told Bloomberg Politics. ACU spokesman Ian Walters confirmed that speakers will have 20 minutes in front of the crowd and have the choice of delivering remarks and taking questions, or devoting the entire time to a Q&A session.

While Bush is expected to outpace the potential field in fundraising, he faces significant skepticism from voters in the conservative base of the party who disagree with his calls to ease immigration laws and his support for the Common Core education standards. How he chooses to handle those topics, and the audience reaction that follows, will be one of the most closely followed story lines of the four-day conference at the National Harbor in Maryland.

Allowing a Q&A at CPAC is an initial advantage for Bush. At appearances in San Francisco, Detroit, and Chicago in the past two months, Bush has proven more engaging and comfortable while taking questions from a moderator as opposed to the traditional speeches he also delivered in each city. He also opted for the format earlier this month at an education summit that his foundation hosted in Florida.

While Bush has received positive reviews after each appearance, the questions have come from admirers, including his former deputy staff chief in Tallahassee. It wasn’t immediately clear who will moderate questions to Bush at CPAC.

Bush is scheduled to appear on Friday. Other speakers on Friday include Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Walters said. Indiana Governor Mike Pence will give the keynote dinner speech Friday.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida may also speak Friday, but details were still being finalized.

Speakers on Thursday will include Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Chris Christie of New Jersey, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and businesswoman Carly Fiorina.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee declined an invitation to the event, Walters said. Alice Stewart, a Huckabee spokeswoman, cited previously scheduled events in Tennessee and South Carolina.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr