MEREDITH — "We're living in serious times and we need a serious candidate," Jeb Bush told the crowd of nearly 250 that filled the Winnipesaukee Ballroom at Church Landing Wednesday as the former governor of Florida, once the odds-on favorite for the GOP presidential nomination, strives for a strong showing in the New Hampshire primary little more than a month away.
The most recent poll of New Hampshire voters by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, North Carolina, shows Bush running alongside Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Ted Cruz, all of whom are polling in double digits, but trailing frontrunner Donald Trump by between 14 and 19 points. But, with these five candidates splitting neatly half the vote, Trump's lead is magnified. The same poll indicates that that Trump would lead Bush by only one point in a head-to-head race. Moreover, since the last poll in December, Bush posted the greatest gain in the field.
Bush stressed his record of proven leadership, recalling that Florida weathered Katrina and seven other hurricanes and four tropical storms, recorded the greatest gains in educational achievement in 15 years and lowered the tax burden on households and businesses during his tenure as governor.
"Leadership matters," Bush insisted. Rolling up his sleeves, he said that a genuine leader "accepts responsibility, builds consensus and fixes things. The greatest joy in public service is fixing things," he remarked.
Asked by Tom Emmanuel of Laconia, who described himself as Trump supporter, why he called Trump "a jerk," Bush replied that he took offense at Trump's "disparaging remarks about other people," including those with developmental disabilities. Putting his fist to his chest, he said a leader must have a heart.
Remarking that a president should have "a servant's heart," Bush sounded an inspirational note.
"I want to be president to tear down the ceiling on people's aspirations. I want to tell them whatever your dream is, let's make sure you have the capacity to pursue that dream," he continued. "It is the pursuit of life that matters."
Bush becomes especially passionate in addressing education, which was a dominant theme of his governorship.
"I'm for high standards, locally driven," he said, explaining that the federal government should play no role in setting standards, defining content or designing curriculum. He noted that although per student spending in the U.S. ranks among the highest in the world, only 40 percent of high school graduates are prepared for either college or employment. Touting the success of the voucher program, he introduced in Florida, he claimed that wider choice for parents and more competition between schools lead to higher levels of achievement.
Likewise, Bush set high expectations for the economy, dismissing the "new normal" of 2 percent annual economic growth as the source of declining median incomes, a shrinking middle class, rising levels of poverty and increasing demands on government, all of which he said are "unacceptable." Instead, he called for a growth rate of 4 percent as "an aspirational goal," adding "we've done it before and we can do it again."
Bush proposes reducing the number of income tax brackets and lowering individual and corporate tax rates, capping deductions while doubling the standard deduction, doubling the earned income tax credit and closing tax loopholes, He would also ease the regulatory burdens on business enterprises, particularly the community banks. And improvements to the elementary and secondary education systems are important components of his approach to the economy.
Turning to the crisis in the Middle East, Bush emphasized that he proposed a strategy to defeat ISIS in August, well before other candidates in the field. He said that he would arm the Kurds, engage the Iraqi armed forces and Sunni tribal leaders and create safe zones for displaced refugees within Syria. He said he would not offer "a blanket kind of big talk," chiding those who spoke of "carpet bombing," but instead exercise "our consensus muscles" and "unite around a common purpose."
Bush repeated that he would support whoever the GOP nominates, but added he would "defend the conservative cause against those who would hijack it. We must campaign with arms wide open," he added. "I intend to fight to the bitter end."
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