Sampling a fried Snickers bar and sidestepping a few hecklers, Jeb Bush made his way through the Iowa State Fair on Friday as he tried—and at times showed signs of struggling—to present himself as a fresh voice in the Republican presidential field.
The former Florida governor, the son and brother of two presidents, had the fairground's political turf mostly to himself, arriving the day before presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the Democrats and Donald Trump and Rick Santorum for the Republicans.
"We're finding out that Governor Bush is working the state very hard," said Republican Chuck Grassley, the state's senior senator, who hasn't endorsed a candidate. "His competitors better keep up with him."
The polls in Iowa suggest another story. Bush recorded just 5 percent in the latest CNN poll of Republicans who say they're likely to attend the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses, behind Trump at 22 percent and five other candidates.
"Look, polls are irrelevant," Bush told reporters. "I'll remind you that my dad, in 1980, was probably an asterisk at this point. Last time around, there were candidates winning at this point that never even made it to the starting line."
Bush also said he has no concerns about selling himself as a Washington outsider, at a time when voters seem to be indicating that's their preference.
"I never lived there," Bush said of Washington. "I've been a reform-minded governor. I'll tell that story."
During his 20-minute appearance at the Des Moines Register's candidate soapbox, Bush focused his criticism on Clinton and President Barack Obama.
"We could grow our economy far faster and it would lift people's spirits up," he said. "But we have to fix these things in Washington and right now we have a president that pushes down anybody that disagrees with him and he elevates himself with this sophisticated, nuanced view and the net result is nothing gets done."
Asked whom he is getting diplomatic advice from, Bush noted that he gets most of it from younger voices in the foreign policy community, while adding that most Republicans with past White House administration experience are likely to have been part of the teams of either George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush.
"This is kind of a tough game for me to be playing, to be honest with you," he said. "I'm my own person."
In a shot directed at Clinton, Bush pledged to campaign in an open fashion. "No rope lines, totally out in the open," he said.
Clinton, whose campaign earlier this year used ropes to control reporters and photographers covering her at a New Hampshire parade, isn't expected to appear at the Register's soapbox. Trump is expected to bypass that stage as well. (The newspaper partners with Bloomberg Politics on Iowa polling.)
In another quip that could double as a swipe at both Clinton and Trump, who plans to land his helicopter near the fairgrounds on Saturday, Bush said, "You can't helicopter in and leave. You gotta be all in, subject yourself to people's questions."
Asked about his past support of Common Core national educational standards, Bush said tries to avoid the term because it's become "so darn poisonous."
"I'm for higher standards, state-created, locally implemented, where the federal government has no role in the creation of standards, content or curriculum," he said.
When one man asked Bush why he supports his brother's plan to privatize Social Security, Bush was quick to respond.
"I don't," Bush said. "It would have made sense back then. Now, we're way beyond that. What we need to do is to reform Social Security to preserve and protect it for those who already have it and to reform it in the logical ways where there's broad, bipartisan consensus."
Over an extended period of time, Bush said, the nation needs to raise the program's retirement age and income-cap limits.
Before leaving the fairgrounds, Bush appeared with Iowa Republican Governor Terry Branstad. The two men simultaneously bit into separate pork chops on sticks for the cameras.