ROCK HILL, S.C. – Jeb Bush looked reenergized at a rally Thursday evening after a testy appearance the day before in which he joked that he should “stop campaigning maybe.”
But those who came to hear him speak in Rock Hill still had the same doubts that have plagued Bush throughout his campaign.
“I’d like to see some fire, some passion,” said Tom, a 62-year-old college administrator from Birmingham, Alabama, who asked not to be identified by last name. “Gov. Bush is more of a solid, ‘don’t make a big to-do about yourself’ guy, and this is a tough year for that kind of candidate.”
Heather Briggs, 41, an undecided voter who used to back Donald Trump, said before the rally that her ideal candidate would be “somebody that speaks his mind, somebody that’s strong and shows some force.”
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham tried to highlight Bush’s toughness in his introduction, saying that the former governor would make a strong commander in chief.
“One thing that drew me to Jeb is he’s got guts,” Sen. Graham said. “He’s the only guy that’s been standing up to Trump and his BS. Now other people are doing it, but Jeb was doing it standing alone.”
Sen. Graham called taking on the real estate mogul a “test of character” and a sign that Bush would be able to grapple with the Democratic nominee and world leaders.
During his speech, Bush drew a loud ovation from the crowd of about 300 when he dismissed Trump’s claim that former President George W. Bush failed to protect the country on Sept. 11.
“What we need is someone who is serious about keeping us safe, just as my brother did,” the older Bush brother said, his voice tinged with anger. “He’s not that guy. I am. It’s that simple.”
He also talked tough on reforming the Veteran’s Administration, promising that under his presidency, “heads will roll.” As the crowd applauded, one woman stood up to leave. “That’s all she wanted to hear,” a relaxed Bush joked. “She’s going to go vote absentee right now.”
Bush appeared to have a much better command of the crowd than he did on Wednesday in Summerville, when worried supporters gave the candidate advice on how to right his flagging campaign at a rally hours after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley announced that she was endorsing Sen. Marco Rubio.
“I was impressed with what he had to say,” said Peter MacVean, a 74-year-old retired DEA agent living in Rock Hill. “If he has luck doing town halls like this, I think his prospects would improve.”
“He may be the best qualified candidate we’ve got,” said Billy Hagner, a 68-year-old retired utility worker from Rock Hill. “I think he looked presidential.”
But unfortunately for the former governor, both Hagner, a poll worker, and MacVean, who will be skiing on Saturday during the election, have already cast early ballots. And neither voted for Bush.
Sen. Graham told the crowd that South Carolina is “well positioned to put wind at Jeb’s back.” But Bush struck an almost rueful chord as he wrapped up his remarks in Rock Hill.
“I hope that you believe it is possible for us to do this,” Bush said. “I hope you don’t think the end is near…And if you’re not going to vote for me, I hope you’ll pray for my family at least. I love you all.”