HILTON HEAD, SC -- Jeb Bush on Saturday addressed Donald Trump's efforts to brand him as "low energy," saying he's been puzzled by the "weird" and unfounded knock on his stamina.
"I’ve never understood this," he said during a campaign appearance in Hilton Head, South Carolina. "For a guy who doesn’t even know me, [he] just repeats it over and over again, it becomes the truth -- It’s the weirdest thing in the world."
Bush attracted one of his largest crowds to date -- more than 500 -- to an oceanside hotel ballroom, where voters made a point of complementing both the governor's energy as well as affection for the Bush family -- both topics that have dogged the governor throughout the campaign.
"I do have to say that you are full of energy. The nation needs to know that," one voter told Bush during the question and answer period.
"You're more dynamic than I expected," another backer told the former Florida governor.
For his part, the 62 year-old candidate made sure people knew the stamina wasn't just limited to the ballroom: "I just ran three miles on your beautiful beach before I came here and I had a full week," he said.
But Bush still has major ground to make up in the race for the Republican nomination.
The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls out Sunday show Bush still lagging behind his rivals in Iowa and New Hampshire. Bush comes in a distant sixth place at 4 percent among likely Iowa caucus-goers, well behind front-runners Ted Cruz and Trump. In New Hampshire, Bush remains in the middle of the pack at nine percent, a full 21 points behind Trump among likely primary voters.
On Saturday, praise for Bush's father, mother and brother nearly matched the complements for his energy.
"I know people care about my family- they love my brother, they love my dad and they love my mom," Bush told reporters after the event. "I don’t go out of my way to talk about it, but it's part of who I am. So it does get a good response."
It's a topic that has loomed over the governor's candidacy: the prospect of being the third consecutive Republican president with the Bush last name.
"The world is different in 2017 than in 2000 and in 1989 and I think it’s important for a president to have sense of history, to learn from the lessons -- both good and bad -- about how we should go about things," he said.
Continuing the theme of recent months, Bush launched into attacks on Trump's conservative credentials, questioning everything from donations the billionaire front-runner has made to Hillary Clinton to a proposed tax on assets and a failure of second amendment advocacy.
"I challenge him to say what his conservative principles are," he said. "I want him to be a conservative. I think we should recruit as many of the liberals like him into our cause."
However, Bush also discounted the more theatrical side to Trump's domination of the polls and the media attention that comes with it.
"I just envision him in Trump Tower on the 54th floor or whatever in his beautiful apartment and he’ll call to Fox and Friends and then Morning Joe and then morning CNN and he’s sitting there with a great bathrobe and nice slippers… and he opines, he consumes the space," he said of Trump. "He has extraordinary ability to get a lot of press coverage."
A conservative general election argument has become Bush's final pitch to voters on the campaign trail now in the final weeks before votes start being cast.
"If a conservative doesn’t win the conservative nomination we’re not going to win the presidency. That’s my advocacy. And I believe I’m the guy to take him on and more importantly to take on Hillary Clinton because I have a proven record of conservative principles."
Looking ahead to Thursday's Republican debate, Bush said he plans to focus on his strategy next week but added: "I think it’s still to show strength, to show conviction, to talk about issues, be the serious candidate with a serious plans to deal with the serious challenges we face."
The governor does, however, hope one issue in particular will pass before he takes to the debate stage. He suffered a thumb injury after a small cooking accident last weekend, and the lingering effects nearly caused a wardrobe debacle for Bush while preparing for a day on the campaign trail.
"This morning I didn’t have a band-aid on it and I tried to put my buttons on, the buttons for my shirt, because it’s hard to do it with a thumb that doesn’t work," he told reporters. "So I had to wear a tie today to cover up the blood on every one of the button holes."
This week, the governor will return to Iowa for the first time in a month, holding three town hall events.