WASHINGTON – Jeb Bush kicked off the most critical two-week period of his presidential campaign so far with a Monday speech that aimed to draw a sharp distinction between his record as governor of Florida and the Senate resumes of his GOP rivals.
"I am running this campaign on my own terms," the former Florida governor said in Tampa, Fla. "And let me tell you something: When the dust clears, and the delegates are counted, we are going to win this campaign."
The attempt to reboot — with a new book, a new slogan and a new campaign tour — is reminiscent of the latter days of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's presidential campaign. Like Bush, Walker, who dropped out of the race in September, seemed caught off guard by the angry and frustrated mood of the Republican electorate.
But unlike Walker, who tried to adapt some of Donald Trump's rhetorical style, Bush vowed to stay the course. Bush sought the comfort of his home state to launch what his campaign was calling the "Jeb Can Fix It" tour, a slogan that could also be taken as reassurance that his campaign is not beyond repair.
Bush plans to barnstorm the early voting states this week, moving from Florida to South Carolina and then embarking on a three-day bus tour through New Hampshire. Bush is in need of an error-free performance that amplifies his argument for the presidency: that his leadership credentials and record as governor best qualify him for the top job.
Then, Bush will need a strong performance in the fourth televised Republican debate next Tuesday. The next one after that is not until mid-December. Whatever happens next Tuesday night could be etched into the minds of GOP primary voters for weeks.
Bush's tour comes the same week he is releasing his e-book "Reply All," an anthology of e-mails from his time as governor.
He acknowledged that his performance in last week's debate drew widespread criticism. But he bemoaned the culture of "yelling into a camera" and insisted "Americans are looking for a president, not a pundit."
Bush implicitly compared himself with Abraham Lincoln, decrying "the foolishness he would have to suffer" were he alive today, with cable pundits telling him to shave the beard or ditch the top hat. "I can't be someone I'm not," he said.
The effort to reboot comes as Bush remains mired in the second tier of candidates. A Monmouth University poll of New Hampshire voters released Monday, for example, found him in sixth place, behind Trump, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio and closely bunched with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Carly Fiorina and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Bush's network of donors and other supporters is anxiously watching him. One Bush fundraiser, granted anonymity, said the campaign is running out of time to get things right. "They keep trying to recalibrate and reset and start over," the person said. "I think you get one or two of those. They are at like number three."
The Washington Post contributed to this report.