Jeb Bush rolled into Tampa Friday for the Hillsborough Lincoln Day Dinner, and he was a man on fire.
Capping off a week of cross country campaigning after his presidential launch rally on Monday in Miami, Bush clearly relished the moment as he walked onto the stage in Tampa to a roaring two-minute standing ovation. To the acclaim of over five hundred rabid Republicans, Bush announced that his Florida campaign headquarters would be located in Tampa — a shrewd strategic move that signals confidence in his ability to reach far beyond his South Florida home and push deep into the vote-rich I-4 corridor.
Bush then gave one of the best speeches he’s delivered, stressing his now-familiar themes of upward social mobility, the need to completely revamp our system of a public education, and the imperative of projecting power overseas to thwart Islamic extremism and Russian aggression.
His campaign also released a Jeb-by-the-numbers video that is clearly intended to contrast Bush’s record of accomplishment as Florida’s hands-on governor with the less tangible accomplishments of his legislative rivals.
Bush’s enthusiastic reception in the Tampa Bay area contrasts sharply with events planned for presidential contender Marco Rubio at about the same time. Rubio was scheduled to have two fundraisers in Sarasota, and both were canceled because of an inability to generate enough support for the events. Campaign pros often speak about early fundraising as the informal but critical “first primary,” and if so Rubio has encountered an enthusiasm gap in a wealthy area of the state known for the largesse of its political donors.
“It was obvious tonight that Bush has an infectious fire in the belly for this campaign,” said former Speaker of the Florida House Will Weatherford. “If I were in the field, I would be worried. This man is on a mission”
Friday provided only a few data points in what will ultimately be a 500-day slog to picking the next president, but Bush’s overwhelming reception in Tampa and Rubio’s underwhelming showing in Sarasota point to the early beginnings of what may be starkly different trajectories within the 1-4 corridor.