Jeb Bush is doing damage control days before he officially launches his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Bush was seen as the GOP front-runner late last year, when he said he was exploring the possibility of a run.
Since then, he’s stumbled over questions about the Iraq War, and his poll numbers have dropped him to fifth place among Republicans in Iowa.
The former Florida governor’s message to reporters in Germany on Wednesday is that it is far too early to be worried about the polls.
He expressed frustration with reporters for asking too many questions about the horse race for the GOP nomination, and downplayed changes to his campaign team this week that some see as a course correction.
“I just encourage people to be a little more patient about this,” Bush said. “Ya’ll cover this kind of in the here and now, and who is winning and who is losing. It’s important, and I have to respect that, but if you have a strategy and you think about it over the long haul it’s a better approach, at least for me.
“I don’t read the polls,” Bush added. “Polls are, you know, it’s fun to see them when you’re winning, not as much when you’re not. It doesn’t really matter though. It’s June for crying out loud, so we have a long way to go.”
Even before he entered the race, political observers wondered if Bush’s family name would hurt him. They also thought his centrist positions on immigration and education would play poorly with grassroots conservatives.
New doubts have emerged about whether Bush is rusty — his last full year in office was 2006.
Bush shook up his political team this week, announcing that David Kochel, an Iowa operative primed to be his campaign manager, would instead be a chief political strategist.
Danny Diaz, an aggressive 39-year-old opposition researcher and conservative media consultant, would be the campaign manager instead.
The move could help Bush hone his message — particularly on the thorny subject of his family.
Last month, Bush spent days clarifying remarks he made about whether he would have invaded Iraq, as he sought to avoid disparaging his brother, former President George W. Bush.
There is plenty of time for the former governor to make a comeback.
Bush continues to benefit from donors loyal to his family and is expected to announce an intimidating fundraising number shortly after his launch. Bush, quickly after saying he was weighing a run, landed an army of top-level staffers and advisers, as well as endorsements from top lawmakers before anyone else had even entered the field.
Yet he has also raised expectations, given reports he would pull in $100 million in the first quarter of the year.
And so far, Bush hasn’t scared away would-be competitors.
“Their strategy was very much to run a shock-and-awe campaign,” said Katie Packer Gage, a veteran of Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. “They were going to come in and raise a ton of money and bring on top level talent to scare people away, but that hasn’t happened.”
In Iowa, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is lapping the field, while Bush is in fifth place, fighting for support among a packed field of contenders.
According to a Quinnipiac University survey released in late May, nearly a quarter of Republicans who identify as “very conservative” said they wouldn’t even consider voting for the former Florida governor.
Bush now finds himself on the sidelines of a dogfight between two candidates with similar appeal to establishment Republicans: Walker and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio: Dropping FARC from terrorist list threatens Colombians, US security This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Human rights groups sound alarm over Interpol election MORE (R-Fla.). Both have seen their support spike in recent months; they sit with Bush atop the national polls.
Other candidates, such as Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP holds on Biden nominees set back gains for women in top positions Advocates see pilot program to address inequalities from highways as crucial first step Ted Cruz ribs Newsom over vacation in Mexico: 'Cancun is much nicer than Cabo' MORE (R-Texas), have proven they will have the ability to at least compete with Bush on the money front.
“This is a key inflection point for his campaign, no doubt about it,” said GOP pollster David Winston. “Campaigns make assumptions about the things they think will propel them to a win, and when you realize those assumptions are no good, you have to rethink a lot of things and adjust.”
Bush told reporters in Germany on Wednesday that he never expected the nominating process to be easy.
“Not at all,” Bush said. “I knew I’d have to earn this. … It’s a long haul; you start wherever you start, and you end a long way away from where you are today.”
Bush insisted that his staff realignment was not evidence his campaign was hitting the panic button at an early stage. Rather, he argued it was a strategic adjustment meant to highlight the various skill sets of his vast campaign network.
Some outsiders say Bush’s overhaul is no different from what many campaigns go through at this early stage. They laud him for at least having the wherewithal to recognize his deficiencies and move to address them.
“These growing pains are not an unusual situation, and every campaign will experience them,” said Winston. “The key is that he’s making moves to address them. The question is whether or not the they’re the right moves to help him going forward.”