Jeb Bush Pivots to New Hampshire

There are about 50 days left until the New Hampshire primary.

ByABC News
December 18, 2015, 6:52 PM
Jeb Bush addresses an audience at a campaign event, Nov. 3, 2015, in Rye, N.H.
Jeb Bush addresses an audience at a campaign event, Nov. 3, 2015, in Rye, N.H.
Steven Senne/AP Photo

— -- New Hampshire will see one of its busiest days yet in the political arena on Saturday -- and that's saying a lot for the first-in-the-nation primary state. Its largest city will play host to the ABC News-hosted Democratic debate, bringing with it three candidates, a slew of staffers and journalists, and enthused political observers. Republican candidate Lindsey Graham will host a town hall. Chris Christie will launch his bus tour.

But Jeb Bush is trying to outshine it all, campaigning like the primary is tomorrow. His campaign is taking on its most ambitious feat yet -- holding four town halls in one day, all in the Granite State. Plans were initially to hold five, but an event in Dover was cancelled, out of respect for U.S. Army Ranger Corporal Andrew Aimesbury's funeral to be held at the same time.

Still, according to longtime political operatives here, his schedule sets a new benchmark.

"I believe that is a record. John McCain did three on a number of occasions," said Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire GOP.

Cullen is unattached to any Republican candidate, though he does self-identify as a "pragmatic conservative and mainstream Republican." He acknowledges that Bush seems to certainly be working hard enough.

"Jeb's campaign has been very aware from day one that they wanted to approach [New Hampshire] differently than his brother, George W. who really blew off New Hampshire," Cullen said.

He added, "To Jeb's credit, they've done a ton of town hall meetings, he's been very accessible, they've done the hard work and heavy lifting and it hasn't translated into strong polling numbers."

But Bush's camp believes that their time is only just beginning.

"There are some things in life, you kind of go through with an article of faith, some things you are guided by laws of physics," Rich Killion, Bush's New Hampshire Senior Adviser said.

"The decision tree of [a New Hampshire] voter is solely decided on their own timetable. Exit tables show half the state decides in the last seven days," he added.

The most recent New Hampshire poll, conducted by the Boston Herald/Franklin Pierce University, has Bush at 10 percent, solidly in fifth place. While Bush publicly remains optimistic, his team behind the scenes is assiduously plowing away, scrambling to garner money and support.

Last week, his team announced to supporters "The New Hampshire Project," a mission to sponsor television advertising buys in the state. On a call led by Killion and Bush's youngest son, Jeb Jr., they announced their fundraising mission -- $1 million before the end of the year.

Donors who complete the mission can get special swag, an opportunity to meet with Bush out on the campaign trail, and a first look at campaign spots. The money is also geared towards helping Bush sustain a long and arduous primary, a safety net if he doesn't do well in early voting states.

Despite the 20 paid staffers and the tens of millions of dollars the campaign and the super PAC supporting Jeb Bush has spent in the state, Bush remains mired in the back of the pack, still behind Donald Trump, who Bush famously said would "be in decline by December 15."

That, of course, has not happened, and the campaign now has had to shift focuses, seemingly focusing almost entirely on New Hampshire, of the first four earliest voting states. They have forsaken trips to any other early state for the rest of the year, limiting events to New Hampshire and Bush's home state of Florida for the rest of 2015.

Killion argued that this isn't a pivot, merely a following through of a strategy announced long ago.

"You have a really fluid electorate. We're almost 50 days out from the primary. They're going from window shopping to comparison shopping. The governor’s been here a lot, we always said he would be here more," Killion said.

Indeed, Bush has logged many miles in New Hampshire and has made 18 trips to the state since he announced his candidacy, according to Killion. They're counting on old fashioned retail "politicking" in reviving Bush's stalled campaign. Such tactics were successful in jolting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's campaign back to life, Cullen noted.

"Not every candidate who does all the hard work and town hall and grassroots meetings has success in New Hampshire. But every candidate who has success in New Hampshire did the town hall meetings and did all the grassroots activities," Cullen said.

He is skeptical that the same formula will work for Bush.

"What he needs is that catalyst, that opportunity for people to give him a second look or a third look and now he can go back to the well that he's been filling all this time," Cullen said.

But there have been moments -- the Paris attacks, the shootings in San Bernardino, controversial comments on Muslims all offer opportunities for an establishment candidate like Bush to regain his footing, a fact his campaign is counting on.

The clock is ticking, and Bush will spend much of that precious time looking for jump start in the Granite State.