Jeb Bush in Tampa downplays debate performance, insists vision and record are keys to victory
TAMPA — Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush looked to jump-start his campaign on familiar turf Monday, emphasizing his record as Florida’s governor and attacking critics and pundits who say his candidacy is on life support.
Bush kicked off a three-city swing through Florida in front of several hundred at the Tampa Garden Club, where he sought to make clear to his base that rumors of his demise were greatly exagerated. As he ended his speech and shook hands with supporters, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” blared from the speakers. A banner with the slogan "Jeb can fix it" hung behind him.
“When the dust clears and the delegates are counted, we’re going to win this campaign,” Bush said to an outburt of applause and raucus chants of “Jeb! Jeb! Jeb!”
Though he subtly panned his most recent debate performance — “As you may have heard, last week I was in Colorado for the third Republican presidential debate,” he said to laughs — Bush ensured his supporters that vision and not debate soundbites would ultimately win the race.
In his 20-minute remarks, Bush did not shy away from throwing jabs at his GOP opponents. He knocked businessman and TV personality Donald Trump, noting, “You can’t just tell Congress, ‘You’re fired,’ and go to commercial break,” while also criticizing Senators running in the race -- which would include fellow Floridian and one-time ally Sen. Marco Rubio -- as moving from one end of Washington to the other.
“I turned the political culture in Tallahassee upside down,” Bush said. “I’m putting the Beltway on notice. I’ll turn Washington upside down too.”
Florida is the first stop on a four-day swing that includes early primary states of South Carolina and New Hampshire. From Tampa, Bush will head to Orlando and finally a town hall in Jacksonville.
As he looks to rebound from an uneven debate performance and sagging poll numbers, Bush said he won't give in to criticism that he change and be more foreceful. Nor will he ditch his purple-stripped tie, he said.
"I like this tie," he said, holding it up as it dangled from his neck. "It only cost twenty bucks."
Bush said that candidates who project a diminished America and a negative outlook play into the hands of Democrats.
“I’m not stepping into the role of angry agitator that they have created for us, because it’s not in my heart,” Bush said. “In the end that role is just a bit part in the story of another conservative loss, and another liberal victory.”