Energetic Bush touts his steady hand

Jeb Bush

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Jeb Bush might have a new campaign theme song.

Minutes before the Republican presidential candidate arrived at a standing-room-only Light Orchestra's "Don't Bring Me Down'' played in the background over the sound system:

I'm "You got me runnin' goin' out of my mind, you got me thinkin' that wastin' my time. Don't bring me down, no, no, no, no no ...''

A clearly relaxed and energized Bush had no trouble engaging a crowd of about 200 people in a little ballroom under a still disco ball at Bev's on the River, a restaurant near the Sioux City Marina.

Organizers originally set out about 60 chairs. They added dozens more as the room filled. Still, about 60 people had to stand during Bush's 45-minute appearance dominated by a question-and-answer period.

The former Florida governor, fresh from a strong showing at a GOP debate in Des Moines the night before, said Americans are on the verge of the greatest time to be alive.

"We're not in decline,'' Bush said. "We the people have the potential to do so much better, but we have a government that doesn't work on our behalf.''

Retreating to earlier themes on the campaign trail, Bush presented himself as the optimist among the 11 active GOP candidates participating in the Iowa caucuses Monday.

The top priority, he said, is keep America safe from terrorists and others who would harm the nation. That requires a president with a steady hand to lead the world toward peace and security, he said.

"The next president needs to rebuild our military so we don't need to use it,'' he said. "The next president needs to rebuild the intelligence capabilities of this country to keep us safe. And the next president should not be a divider in chief, or an agitator in chief, or an insulter in chief. He better be a commander in chief.''

It was Bush's first big applause line.

Bush said the sequester spending cuts have dramatically hurt the military.

"We need to rebuild the Air Force, so planes are younger than the pilots,'' he said.

Bush — son of a former president and the brother of another — entered the race as a front-runner, but his campaign has so far not lived up to its promise.

Since the middle of August, Bush has held no more than 8.3 percent of Iowa GOP voters' support, according to Real Clear Politics' survey of polls. He was in fourth place, at the time, behind Donald Trump, Scott Walker and Ben Carson.

He slipped into fifth place during the last three months as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, moved up in the polls.

Friday, he asked for people to support him when they caucus and to consider one thing.

"Who can sit behind the big desk?'' he said. "Who has the steady hand? Who has the fortitude and the backbone to run to the fire, rather than run away the minute the going gets tough?"

Bush argued that his two terms as governor gave him the experience to get things done, working with Democrats and Republicans. He said his record of public education reform in Florida demonstrates that he can accomplish change in Washington.

After cornering Bush for a photograph afterward, Donna Dykstra of Sheldon, Iowa, said she and many others sitting near her remained undecided.

"But I could feel a lot of energy here'' for Bush, she said.

Bush is campaigning across Iowa from river to river — from west to east — through Sunday. He bookended his Sioux City stop with visits to Carroll and Sioux Center. Joining Bush on Friday were his daughter, Noelle, and son, Jeb Jr.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1127, david.hendee@owh.com

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