Republican Jeb Bush’s initial foray into New Hampshire has shown that he may have learned from the mistakes his father and brother made in losing the state that will be crucial for him should he run for president in 2016.
Not that this is going to make it easier for him.
The state’s voters are notoriously fickle and want candidates to appear personally again and again to make their case. Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, never spent the time needed and lost here in 1992. His brother, George W. Bush, had the same fate in 2000.
Keenly aware of that history, the 62-year-old Jeb Bush found himself on Friday night in the kitchen of a state politico’s home with potential supporters crowded around him, snacking on hors d’oeuvres. A battery of TV cameras recorded his every utterance.
This kind of one-on-one politicking was a different experience for the former Florida governor thus far in his exploration of a run for the Republican presidential nomination. His public appearances so far have mostly involved speeches to sizeable groups of people.
“This is kind of up close and personal,” Bush chuckled as the crowd pressed around him at the home of Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.
“Welcome to New Hampshire,” laughed Cullen’s wife, Jenny.
If Bush is going to be successful, he will need to make many similar appearances in New Hampshire, a state whose first-in-the-nation primary is significant for him since it comes right after the first nominating contest early next year, the caucuses in Iowa, where he faces a stiff challenge.
It took 2008 Republican nominee John McCain 100 town hall meetings in New Hampshire to win over the state.
While McCain had Mitt Romney to deal with in 2008, Bush has a host of rivals led by Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor who is increasingly putting Bush in his sights.
Walker leads Bush in Reuters/Ipsos’ current five-day rolling average of polls of likely Republican voters, with 20.4 percent support to 14.9 percent for Bush.
In his New Hampshire appearances, Jeb Bush stressed his conservative beliefs in limited government and, pressed by a variety of questioners, explained why his moderate views on education and immigration fit into that.
He said he sees no need for a national increase in the minimum wage, and said he would repeal and replace Obamacare while retaining its popular parts, like the requirement that people with pre-existing health problems be granted insurance.
On his controversial support for Common Core education standards, Bush said whatever those standards are should be decided at the local, not national, level but that he would not back down from on an issue he has long prioritized.
Many Republicans at the Cullens’ home liked what they were hearing.
“Jeb is more of a centrist, and that’s important to us,” said Bob Decolfmacker of Dover.