Grand Rapids — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s ailing presidential campaign couldn’t catch a break Thursday as he got hung up in storm-ravaged Iowa and missed a chance to appeal personally to a roomful of influential Republicans who remain neutral in the race.
But Bush, always the happy warrior on the campaign trail, tried to make the best of arriving late to Grand Rapids after his plane got stuck in a airport hangar that was hit by a tornado.
Bush kicked off a town hall event at the Kent County Republican Party headquarters by telling a joke about his campaign staff navigating a stormy Iowa highway Wednesday night as they drove back to Des Moines.
“It got so bad I thought I saw a pig flying by,” Bush said. “It may have been a cow, I couldn’t tell. It was extraordinary.”
The policy-orientated son and brother of two former presidents attempted to appeal to frustrated Republican voters Thursday by saying he’s the best qualified GOP presidential candidate to take on Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton next year and fix what angers them about the federal government.
Before the rally, Bush held a truncated private meeting with donors at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel after missing a midday luncheon dubbed a “friendmaker” event that drew some Republican donors who have not jumped on his campaign bandwagon.
Grand Rapids businessman Peter Secchia organized the event to try to help Bush make his case to Republicans who may be wary of a third member of the Bush sitting in the White House. Secchia was former President George H.W. Bush’s ambassador to Italy and raised money for George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election.
Among those in attendance was billionaire grocery store owner Hank Meijer. In a brief interview, Meijer said he’s known Jeb Bush for years as they both served on the board of the National Constitution Center.
But Meijer was non-committal when asked if he is firmly in Bush’s camp.
“I’m enthusiastic about him,” Meijer told The Detroit News.
Former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land refused to talk to reporters about whether she supports Bush as she left the luncheon early.
Ann Arbor real estate developer Ron Weiser, who has donated the maximum $2,700 contribution to Bush’s campaign but remains neutral in the GOP primary. Weiser is chairing a new super political action committee targeting Clinton.
The Bush campaign did not disclose how much money was raised, but Bush characterized the “friendmaker” event as a successful one, despite his absence. It was Bush’s second fundraiser this fall in Michigan.
“Unfortunately, I missed my own fundraiser here because of the inclement weather, but it was a successful one as well,” Bush told reporters. “We have the resources to run a competitive campaign and we’ll continue to have it.”
During the rally, Bush tried to make his case to about 200 rank-and-file Republicans that the party needs a presidential nominee with governing experience.
“It’s logical that people are angry and frustrated — very logical if you look at the state of affairs in Washington,” Bush told reporters at a campaign stop at the Kent County Republican Party headquarters. “But not solving the problem isn’t going to make things better, right? I have a set of solutions to fix these things and I have a proven record to do it.”
“I think it’s important to nominate a person that can beat Hillary Clinton or nothing’s going to get better.”
Bush’s remarks came as he lags behind two non-politicians — billionaire real estate tycoon Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson — in national polls and surveys in states with primaries and caucuses that come before Michigan’s March 8 primary.
John Inhulsen, chairman of the Kent County Republican Party, said Bush has “more substance and class” than the other Republicans seeking their party’s nomination.
“Gov. Bush, in my opinion, is the most ready to hop into the top spot in this country and lead from Day 1,” Inhulsen said. “If you look at his record in Florida, nobody has a resume like Gov. Bush does. … He’s a get-things-done kind of guy.”
During the town hall event, Bush mixed in a series of policy prescriptions for doubling economic growth while talking about his governing and leadership philosophy.
Bush focused his message to potential primary voters on changing the governing culture in Washington.
“Washington’s not working. The culture is insular,” Bush said.
Bush said he changed the culture of state government in Florida, issuing 2,500 line-item vetoes that eliminated $2 billion in spending during his eight years in office.
“Income grew by 4.4 percent in our state ... the government grew by half of that,” Bush said. “And that’s we need in Washington, D.C., to bring fiscal discipline to a process that hasn’t had it in a long time.”
On the day after the Veterans Day holiday, Bush targeted labor unions in the Veteran’s Administration and said he would reform the health care program so veterans can see other doctors outside of the federal hospital system.
“It shouldn’t take an act of God to be able to access another option,” Bush said.