Official Candidate Bush Eyes N.H., Chance to Pull Away

Official Candidate Bush Eyes N.H., Chance to Pull Away
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Jeb Bush announced Monday that he is officially running for president of the United States. But no, he isn’t heading to Disney World. 

Instead, the former Florida governor’s first stop as a White House contender is New Hampshire—a signal of how seriously he plans to compete in the nation’s first primary and how integral the state is to his quest for the Republican nomination. 

That path is arduous and complicated, as Bush has at least 10 other rivals for the GOP nod, with more competitors expected to enter the fray over the next several weeks. The early goal, and challenge, for Bush is to distinguish himself not only from his brother and father but from the rest of the field. New Hampshire could be an opportune place to do both.  

The Bush family has had mixed results in the Granite State. Jeb’s father, George H.W. Bush, won the primary in 1988, which helped him recover from an Iowa loss and propelled him toward the nomination. In 2000, sibling George W. Bush prioritized the Iowa caucuses over the New Hampshire primary, which John McCain had locked down, and went on to win the nomination and eventually the presidency. But Jeb Bush is running a different campaign in the state.  

Unlike his brother, Jeb Bush sees New Hampshire as essential to his success as a presidential contender. And the campaign sees a chance to outshine rivals in a state that values fiscally conservative principles but tends to align with more moderate sensibilities. He has a slight lead over the rest of the field in New Hampshire, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average, and believes his gubernatorial record will appeal to voters. 

After announcing his Oval Office bid Monday afternoon in Miami, Bush will kick off his campaign Tuesday in New Hampshire with a quintessential townhall-style event at the Adams Memorial Opera House in Derry. 

“It’s obviously a state where you have to work hard and be in the state to win, and he understands that,” says Ryan Williams, a Republican strategist supporting Bush and a former spokesman for the New Hampshire Republican Party. “It’s a state that values fiscal conservatives, lower taxes and limited government, and his record in Florida matches up very well with New Hampshire values. So, he has a good story to tell and it will resonate.” 

Bush’s first event as a presidential candidate will also draw contrasts with Hillary Clinton’s initial foray into the state two months ago, Williams argues. That trip involved smaller, invitation-only roundtable events with select participants. Clinton came back to New Hampshire on Monday after a campaign re-launch rally in New York City and stops in Iowa over the weekend. She visited a school to talk about early childhood education in Rochester, hosted an afternoon rally in Concord, and is slated to headline a Democratic Party dinner in Manchester. 

The presence of both Clinton and Bush in New Hampshire this week highlights a potential clash of political dynasties that could reverberate throughout the campaign, and both are trying to re-introduce themselves as separate from their family members. Hillary’s campaign logo is an “H” and Jeb Bush introduced a logo used in his Florida gubernatorial campaign: “Jeb!” 

Bush, however, will have to contend with a larger number of rivals than Clinton does, many of whom are working to establish themselves as a viable and fresh alternative to him in the hopes of taking on Clinton.  

“Voters and activists here are all shopping now and they see no reason to stop at Jeb Bush and say, he’s the guy,” says Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, noting the field is much deeper and more talented than when Mitt Romney locked up the state in 2012. 

Bush will have competition in the form of younger, fresher faces hoping to draw generational contrasts with Clinton -- and with Bush as well. But in New Hampshire, he might also have competition for more moderate, establishment-oriented voters in the form of two governors, New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Ohio’s John Kasich, each of whom is eying a presidential run and sees opportunities to break out in New Hampshire. 

“One of the obstacles -- and maybe it will be an asset -- is everyone feels they know him already even though they actually don’t,” Scala says of Jeb. “He’s not going to be that new thing the way Scott Walker and Marco Rubio are right now, and he will initially have to overcome the feeling of ‘Haven’t we already done this before?’ … But perhaps in the end, it may turn out to be the case that being a familiar, reliable face might work out to his benefit in the end because we don’t know how Walker and Rubio are going to hold up over time.”

In his announcement speech, Bush indicted the Obama years as an era of sluggish economic growth, fiscal irresponsibility, and a waning American influence abroad: "They are responsible for the slowest economic recovery ever, the biggest debt increases ever, a massive tax increase on the middle class, the relentless buildup of the regulatory state, and the swift, mindless drawdown of a military that was generations in the making.

"I, for one, am not eager to see what another four years would look like under that kind of leadership,” Bush added.

In a jab at his likely Democratic rival, Bush said the “Obama-Clinton-Kerry team” has failed on foreign policy, “leaving a legacy of crises uncontained, violence unopposed, enemies unnamed, friends undefended, and alliances unraveling."

With chants of “we want Jeb!” from the enthusiastic and ethnically diverse crowd, Bush also touted his results-oriented record as Florida’s chief executive.

"We made Florida number one in job creation and number one in small business creation,” he said. "1.3 million new jobs, 4.4 percent growth, higher family income, eight balanced budgets, and tax cuts eight years in a row that saved our people and businesses 19 billion dollars.”

In an effort to combat the Bush dynasty narrative, he declared the presidential race to be “wide open,” saying no candidate deserves to win the nomination based solely on his or her "resume, party, seniority, family, or family narrative."

Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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