TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — As longtime backers fret over the viability of Jeb Bush's candidacy, the two-term Florida governor has an answer: "Jeb Can Fix It."
The revamped slogan tells his story in more ways than he might have intended.
Bush launched the make-over on Monday at a long-planned campaign rally in friendly, home-state Florida, a reset to an underwhelming campaign for the Republican nomination. Principles and accomplishments — not style and flash — anchor the campaign, he told supporters.
That would account for Bush's choice to use a can-do slogan that could apply as much to Bush's effort to steady his campaign as it does to his sense of confidence about handling the nation's problems.
"This election is not about a set of personalities. It's about a set of principles," Bush said, in a jab at rivals Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, and a nod to his flat performance in the debate last week in Colorado. As the audience at the Tampa Garden Club applauded, he added, "It is about leadership."
Bush's reset comes as a populist surge has propelled the outsider campaigns of bombastic developer Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson — and created an opportunity for Rubio, a freshman senator from Florida and former Bush protege, to make his appeal to the party establishment.
What seemed last summer like the right slogan to carry Bush into the final three months of the pre-primary campaign now has an off-key ring, underscored by a cascade of criticism in online forums, including Twitter.
But surrounded Monday by friends and former colleagues, Bush delivered a speech in Tampa that amounted to re-declaring his candidacy, without changing his message or significantly altering his campaign strategy. Bush recently announced an across-the-board cut in salaries to protect his available campaign cash for the final charge into Iowa.
"But let me be clear: I'm not stepping into the role of 'angry agitator' that they have created for us, because it's not what's in my heart," Bush said, a nod to the frustration Trump has stoked.
Mockingly called "low energy" by Trump, Bush joked about the advice he's received.
"Nail that zinger. Be angrier. Hide your inner wonk," the term for an official motivated by policy as Bush is. "But I've learned two important things serving as your governor. One, I can't be something I'm not. And two, getting something done isn't about yelling into a camera."
Bush has increasingly seen Rubio over recent weeks as his chief rival for the nod among mainstream Republicans, rather than devout social conservatives like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz or government outsiders like retired surgeon Ben Carson.
Bush is making some tactical changes, such as spending more sustained time in early voting Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, with plans to visit the latter two Tuesday.
But the message, an experienced conservative executive to succeed Democrat Barack Obama, a one-term senator before becoming president, does not appear to be changing. Nor does Bush's dry, matter-of-fact, and at times self-deprecating delivery.
No need to change, said Will Bissette, a 75-year-old Tampa real estate investor who was among the 200 or so in the auditorium.
"It's still early," said Bissette. "Jeb's recognizing what he needs to do."
Kicking off this leg of his campaign in Florida, surrounded by former statehouse colleagues and supporters made sense strategically, said Todd Josko, a 47-year-old communications consultant from Tampa. But it especially made for a warm reception for Bush facing a time of trial, Josko said.
"Home cooking cures all ills," Josko said, adding that people will look back on Monday, "as the day the campaign turned around."
The crowd skewed older, though Bush was backed by risers full of younger and diverse supporters, many waving signs with the new slogan.
"After seven years of incompetence, corruption and gridlock in Washington, we need a president who can fix it," Bush said. "I can fix it.
And in a show of quiet confidence more hidden in recent weeks, Bush assured his audience he had the stomach for the fight.
"I'm running this campaign on my own terms. And let me tell you something, when the dust clears and the delegates are counted, we're going to win this campaign," Bush said, igniting cheers and chants throughout the audience: "Jeb! Jeb! Jeb!"
Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa.
On Twitter, follow Thomas Beaumont at: https://twitter.com/TomBeaumont and Tamara Lush at https://twitter.com/tamaralush .