Jeb Bush reflects on debate performance

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Story highlights

  • Bush has shown he's more comfortable in a town hall setting or an informal meet-and-greet, rather than a speech or debate
  • Bush suggested he was frustrated by the format of the evening

Seabrook, New Hampshire (CNN)A little more than 12 hours after stepping off stage from his first debate in 13 years, Jeb Bush walked into a spin room of a different kind -- Brown's Lobster Pound near the seacoast here in New Hampshire.

A random mix of diners, who didn't know Bush was coming, were enthusiastic about his visit, with many telling the former Florida governor he did a good job Thursday night.
"Saw you on the TV last night," one woman said, shaking his hand. "I think you handled yourself very well."
    "It was an interesting experience," Bush said.
    His loose hair was slightly wind-swept and his sleeves were rolled up, a stark contrast to the combed hair and slick suit that he sported the night before as he battled with nine other presidential candidates inside a massive Cleveland arena.
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    The lobster shop was a friendly atmosphere for the Republican candidate, who's faced a barrage of headlines this week after he made mistakes that set off a new round of speculation over whether Bush was ready for prime-time.
    Since exploring and later running a presidential campaign this year, the former governor has steadily shown that he's more comfortable in a town hall setting or an informal meet-and-greet, rather than the often restrictive and rigid structure of a formal event, like a speech or debate.
    He received mixed reviews after his performance in the crowded debate Thursday night. With Donald Trump dominating the stage, most of the candidates struggled to break through and generate as much coverage as the real estate titan.
    For his part, Bush attempted to stay clear of any battles on stage and focus on talking about his record, all the while tying to maintain an air of optimism.
    Bush avoided making gaffes or errors in the debate, but he was criticized by some for lacking enthusiasm. In an Iowa focus group conducted by CNN, for example, voters agreed that Bush gave no wrong answers, but he didn't create a spark in the group. He received strong praise for his answers on Common Core and immigration, but fell somewhat flat when talking about ISIS.
    Asked by reporters Friday in New Hampshire how he felt about his performance and the various reviews, Bush said, "I think I did fine."
    "I am who I am. People over the long process are going to want to know: Can the person that we nominate fight with energy?" he said. "Can (they) sit behind the big desk and make decisions in a way that gives them a sense that they can have security? I'm not going to change who I am. It's a little late in the game for me to do that."
    Bush declined to offer his thoughts on whether Trump, who stood next to Bush on stage, hurt himself by embracing his brash persona at the debate, saying only, "we'll find out."
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    "I'm not a pundit. I don't get to play one for purposes of reality TV or anything," he added with a dose of sarcasm. "He was very cordial to me. And this was the first time I'd been with him for more than like 10 seconds, and I enjoyed getting to know him and his family a little better."
    Holding a lobster roll in the restaurant Friday, Bush started searching for a table to sit at.
    "You're more than welcome to sit with us," said a young woman with big white-trim sunglasses. She and her two male co-workers were sitting at a table outside, where the smell of salty water floated lightly with the sea breeze.
    As a ring of cameras and reporters looking on, one of Bush's new lunch-mates told him that Bush came across as "composed" during the debate.
    But Bush suggested he was frustrated by the format of the evening.
    "There were a lot of gotcha questions, they weren't bigger, broader questions," Bush said casually, taking occasional bites from his lobster roll. "They were smart questions; they were trying to create conflict inside of the 10."
    Though debates have marked defining moments or turning points in presidential campaigns, Bush argued that they aren't the end-all, be-all for his campaign.
    "I don't view this debating as a question of winning and losing. It's a cumulative effect of shaping peoples' opinion about who you are," he told reporters. "That matters over the long haul."