Raleigh, N.C. — Although he lags far behind in most polls, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said Friday that he remains confident in his chances as the first wave of primaries approaches.
"People make up their mind as it gets closer. They date now; they marry the next president," Bush said in an interview with WRAL News.
The former Florida governor was in Raleigh for a private fundraiser at the home of Jim Cain, an attorney, longtime GOP donor, former president of the Carolina Hurricanes and former U.S. ambassador to Denmark.
In an Elon University Poll released Thursday, Bush garnered 4.6 percent among likely Republican voters in North Carolina, far behind retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson at 31 percent and businessman Donald Trump at 19 percent. U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida tied for third in the poll at 9.7 percent.
Bush noted that eventual Republican presidential nominees Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008 were far behind other candidates in early polls.
"This is halfway through the second quarter (of the game)," he said. "The simple fact is, at the end of this, people want to know who has the capability to make the tough decisions and the experience to be president, and I believe that, when people start focusing on that, I'm going to rise up in the polls."
On the campaign trail, he emphasizes his record in Florida, where he cut taxes, reduced the size of the state government and created school voucher programs.
Bush's campaign has been retooling through reallocating staff in early primary states, spending reductions and a "Jeb Can Fix It" tour in New Hampshire this week.
"This is about not me or the big personalities on the stage. It's about people's struggle right now," he said. "People are really struggling. They're angry about Washington for good reason."
He said he is trying to appeal to a broader swath of voters than the hard-core conservative GOP base by offering an optimistic plan to move the country forward.
"I don't think you're going to win as a Republican or a conservative in 2016 against (Democratic candidate) Hillary Clinton if it's about anger," he said. "If we can offer a compelling alternative to the path we're on ... I think people will be turned on by that."
North Carolina's primary is March 15, and Bush is the only candidate to visit the Triangle more than once so far. He also was in Garner in September, where he rolled out his ideas for tax reform.