HIALEAH, Florida— Jeb Bush launched out of his holiday campaign break Monday, tapping into his home base with a full day of events in Florida.
“Miami's always been kind to the Bush family,” he said. “This is our home.”
The state where Bush served eight years as governor is both central to his campaign message and is a source of energetic support for a candidacy that has struggled to gain traction in the shadow of Donald Trump and other anti-establishment figures.
On Monday, Bush used his campaign stops to slam Trump as a "bully" who has badly misjudged Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Trump has praised in recent weeks.
"Donald Trump may like Vladimir Putin because he praised him," he said. "The best thing you can do with Trump is say something nice about him, he immediately like thinks you're a wonderful person. Putin may think that but he's wrong, Trump may think that about Putin but he's wrong. He is a bully he's not a force for good."
At a breakfast meet and greet to start the day,a parade of elected officials proceeded the governor with pledges of their support. Many of the attendees had long histories supporting the governor and they donned campaign swag and handmade signs.
That scene is a stark contrast to the events Bush holds in states like New Hampshire, where his support is much less vocal.
This isn’t the first time Bush has returned to Florida for a boost of enthusiasm before facing a critical period. Early in the fall Bush began his campaign re-set tour dubbed “Jeb Can Fix It” in the state before moving on to the early voting states of New Hampshire and South Carolina. That tour seemed to turn the page on the campaign’s tumultuous summer, although it didn’t produce a bump in poll numbers.
But even at home, Trump wasn’t far from Bush’s mind as he continued to call the Republican front-runner a “chaos candidate” who “fills space” but lacks seriousness.
“I'm the only candidate that has gone after him because everybody else seems to be intimidated by the bully -- I'm not,” he said.
Bush’s willingness to go after Trump in recent weeks appears to even be filtering into his own assessment of the race: “We will win and when we do we will restore America's greatness again,” he said seeming to channel Trump’s key phrases. “This primary is gonna be huge.”
Bush has long said the coming weeks will be the critical period for voters to make up their minds and he has maintained confidence that his message, based on his record in Florida, will prove persuasive in that decision making process.
The governor returns to New Hampshire on Tuesday, where his campaign has devoted much of its resources for months.