From the start, the Jeb Bush campaign for President just seemed out of sorts. Yes, he had a lot of money. And so did his Super PAC. But the voters never really warmed to him, indicating that he might have been the right person in another election, but not in 2016.
“At first I thought of backing Jeb Bush, because I voted for his brother, Gretchen Holden of Pickens, South Carolina told me last week.
“But I don’t think he has what it’s going to take,” Pickens added, saying that in her mind, Donald Trump is “the only person who has the backbone to do what needs to be done.
In other words, Jeb was seen as a decent man, but not the person who was going to shake up Washington, D.C. and make major changes.
People liked the Bush family. They turned out in big numbers to see his father. They asked questions about his mom and dad at campaign events.
“My mom and dad are doing pretty good,” Bush told voters who asked last week.
You could feel how much the Bush name meant to them. Many had voted for his father, or his brother.
Except a lot of them weren’t ready to pull the lever for him in large numbers in 2016.
In the last three weeks on the campaign trail, I saw Jeb Bush in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and each time, there seemed to be a moment that made me wince as a reporter – a sign that this campaign wasn’t in high gear.
In Iowa, Jeb spoke at a VFW hall in Clear Lake; the hall itself was filled with probably 150 people, but on the other side of the wall was the VFW bar.
While Jeb was speaking, you could clearly hear the patrons chattering and laughing, ordering drinks and food, and watching the Iowa State basketball game, just on the other side of the wall.
It wasn’t the greatest sign.
The next week in New Hampshire, I caught Jeb the day before the primary, as he spoke to a Rotary Club luncheon at a country club in Nashua.
On a day of full-throated rallies around the Granite State, this quiet lunch was a jarring and oddly quiet venue for the final day’s drive for votes in the Granite State.
Bush would finish fourth, and keep going to South Carolina, but when I caught up with the former Governor of Florida as he toured a gun manufacturing business, it was obvious there wasn’t much juice in his campaign.
When he wrapped up his speech to workers at the company’s plant outside of Columbia, there was applause, and then Bush opened the floor for questions.
And there was silence.
It seemed like an hour, but it was only about five seconds before someone spoke up and asked a question.
But you could tell, there was no zip, no juice in the room.
Afterwards, Bush spoke to reporters and said he wasn’t listening to the pollsters or the pundits.
That is usually candidate-speak for they have an uphill fight.
I had seen Bush’s father win in New Hampshire and South Carolina in 1992.
I had seen Bush’s brother win in those states in 2000.
There would be no repeat in 2016 – and to many, it had been obvious for months.