Gov. Jeb Bush found some magic at Disney on Tuesday, speaking comfortably and boldly about the 2016 Republican field at Rick Scott’s Economic Growth Summit in Orlando, Florida.
An attendee – who Bush recognized and asked about his business – questioned the likely candidate about how he’d handle the crowded field.
“If I run, and my decision on that is forthcoming real soon,” he began. “My intention is to run on my record and my ideas and run to try and win the presidency – not to make a point, not to have my voice heard.”
The way you win is “to get to 50%,” Bush continued. “You can’t tear down 30%, 40% of people!”
Bush enjoyed his home-field advantage on Tuesday speaking in Disney World and seemed far more comfortable, confident, and at ease than he was at a similar cattle call in Oklahoma City two weeks ago.
He continued: “It’s a rambunctious field, we’ve got 75 people running? It’s a big field, it’ll be competitive and there’s going to be some elbows and knees. This isn’t tiddlywinks we’re playing,” he said. “But there’s an awareness that we’re going to have to win.”
Asked if his message could appeal to a broader base outside Florida, Bush fired back: “We’ll find out, if I’m a candidate. I can’t figure out how you change what you believe if you believe what you believe, I don’t know, that’s just not in my DNA,” he concluded, earning applause.
Though Bush may have seemed the most at home, he wasn’t the only Republican seeking to generate sparks with Florida’s donors and conservatives as they look to get a foothold in the state that’s voted for the winning president in the last 9 out of 10 presidential elections.
“The likely next president is going to be speaking today,” the host of the event and Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott said at the start, as he held court and touted his own policies and Florida’s successes.
Related: The GOP’s Florida
Some of the 2016 field’s most competitive Republicans – a mix of declared and likely candidates – spoke at the event: Governors Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, and Bush all addressed the crowd; Sen. Marco Rubio spoke via video message.
Two of the seven have home-field advantage: Bush, the state’s former governor, and Rubio, the state’s sitting senator, are leading the pack in polling in the state, earning 30% and 31% respectively. For the other five, it’s an uphill battle: one of the current frontrunners, Walker, is considering skipping the state’s primary battle altogether, according to reports.
“We’d compete to try and win anywhere in the country, the only pause I gave was in deference to two favorite sons here in Florida, that I thought that Gov. Bush and Sen. Rubio certainly will have a competitive advantage over anybody,” Walker told reporters on Tuesday. “But if I didn’t think I could compete I wouldn’t be here today.”
So for now, the Republicans worked to appeal to voters and donors alike.
In a question and answer with Scott, Christie portrayed himself as a fearless leader, someone who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty to get work done, joking that he spends ample time time with legislators he “can’t stand” so he is better able to lead as governor in New Jersey.
“It’s hard work, it’s not magic, there’s no magic wand to wave,” he said. “It’s really been the key to my success.”
Jindal situated himself to the right of the rest of the crowd, portraying himself as someone who was going to fundamentally rework government – not just implement reforms.
He quipped that the key to success at these cattle calls is to “pander both to the crowd and the host, but you can’t do it obviously or explicitly!”
“If I were elected to the president of the United States, I would turn around the economy the same way Rick Scott has in Florida,” Jindal said, before jokingly walking off stage. “Was that not long enough?”
Walker opted for a tan suit for Tuesdays’ event – forgoing his usual rolled-up sleeves and a tie – as he touted his electoral success (three successful elections in four years) and pushed a litany of proposals, including reigning in regulations (the economy’s “wet blanket”), repealing Obamacare, and increasing school choice.
Asked how he’d increase the Republican base and “get more people in our tent,” he touted his electoral success with college students and young professionals, but largely dodged on minorities, a group the Republican party historically struggles to woo.
“We’ll be back – many more times,” Walker concluded, perhaps a response to reports that he’d skip the state.
Rubio vowed a revival and new age, promising to herald in a generation of “new ideas, not old ones, of a growing economy, not of a growing government, of opportunity for all not just a few, then we will be on our way to a new American century.”
Huckabee raged against regulation and taxation, vowing to institute a flat tax and abolish the IRS and to think like a business owner. “The next president needs to be somebody who has signed the front of a paycheck, not just the back of one, someone who has managed something!” roared the former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate.
Perry spoke broadly about economic development, national security, and regulation as well, touting his executive experience as a governor and joking about competing with Scott and Jindal to woo businesses and grow their nearby economies.
They also all praised Florida repeatedly, lauding Scott’s conservative policies.
“This is his conference and anything I can do to suck up to him and his donors, by gonnit, I’m going to do it!” Huckabee joked.
Despite his high praise from fellow governors, however, Scott has struggled to win the same popularity among his state’s voters. 42% of voters approve of him in the latest poll; 47% of voters disapprove.