As Jeb Bush tried to greet and make small talk with workers at a local business in New Hampshire, he had a hard time ignoring the crush of reporters and cameras that surrounded him during his first trip to the state in 15 years.
“Howdy, how are you?” he said to one woman, shaking her hand. “What do you think of all of this?”
“It’s crazy,” she responded.
He paused, acknowledging her assessment with a friendly nod. “That just shows you’re a normal person.”
Bush, a self-acknowledged introvert, hasn’t campaigned for public office since his re-election bid as Florida governor in 2002. Political observers wondered how well he would fare in the lightning-fast pace of a presidential campaign, a practice now dominated by the instantaneous and ever-present nature of social media.
Though still breaking out of his shell, the likely candidate appears to be feeling more comfortable on the trail. In New Hampshire on Friday, he chatted up voters during a cramped business tour and a packed house party, revealing tidbits about his personality and taking light-hearted jabs at the media horde following him.
As one person at the business was taking photos, Bush joked to the man that he’ll be able to show his grandchildren what the media was like 30 years from now “when there’s no press left.”
“You’ll all be automated and digitized I’m sure, right?” Bush said, turning to the dozens of reporters around him.
At another point during the tour, Bush stopped mid-conversation with one of the owners and surveyed the media. “I’ll get used to this, I think.”
The former governor is on the second leg of an early-voting-state swing ahead of his expected campaign launch in the coming months. Last week he visited Iowa, which holds the nation’s first nominating contest, and next week he heads to South Carolina, home of the first Southern primary.
Aside from the press attention, Bush’s trip to New Hampshire was fairly low key. He held no big, open-to-the-public events, only visiting a bioscience company in Hudson and attending a house party in Dover.
His other appearances on Friday and Saturday, which included a fundraiser for Rep. Frank Guinta and meetings with New Hampshire leaders, were all private.
The state has been a tough one at times for his brother and father, both former U.S. presidents. In 2000, George W. Bush lost the New Hampshire primary shortly after winning the Iowa caucuses. The same thing happened to his father, George H.W. Bush, in 1980, when he was thumped by Ronald Reagan in New Hampshire.
When George H.W. Bush ran for president again in 1988, he lost Iowa but won New Hampshire and ultimately the GOP nomination and the presidency.
As he’s been doing lately, Jeb Bush quickly recognized his family ties at the top of his remarks during the house party Friday night and said he was proud of their legacy, making special mention of his popular mother.
“When I was born in Midland, Texas … my little eyes opened and there I was, probably crying and trying to get a little oxygen,” he said. “I looked up and Barbara Bush was there. I didn’t know it at the time, but I won the lottery.”
He took questions during a roundtable event at the local company and again from attendees at the house party, hosted at the home of former New Hampshire GOP chairman Fergus Cullen.
Bush, a vocal advocate of Common Core, offered strong support for the controversial testing standards that have drawn ire from conservatives. He contested the idea that it was a “federal takeover” and encouraged states to adopt their own higher standards if they didn’t want Common Core.
“You don’t abandon your core beliefs, you go try to persuade people as I’m doing now,” Bush said. “I think you need to be genuine. I think you need to have a backbone.”
He hit President Barack Obama for embracing a foreign policy that Bush described as a retreat from the world. “Name a country where the American relationship is better today than when Barack Obama came into office,” he challenged the audience, to which some quickly shouted: “Cuba!”
“You win,” he responded. “Not Canada, absolutely not. Not Latin America. Not Israel. Not Egypt. Not Jordan. Not Turkey. Not Saudi Arabia. Not the entire Middle East. Not the African countries either. Disengagement creates so much uncertainty and doubt, that people don’t know where we stand.”
Bush, known for his cerebral personality and penchant for discussing nuanced policy, also appears to have become more comfortable talking about himself. Working the room at the house party, he declined to take some cheesecake, telling the guests that he’s on the paleo diet.
“I’ve lost weight because I don’t eat that anymore,” he said. He also showed off a fitness tracking device his wrist, saying it helps keep track of his steps and pulse.
Touring the business, Bush signed baseballs and spoke in Spanish with some, asking them where they were from.
But the former governor mostly tried to break the ice with people by acknowledging the awkwardness of being followed by a media scrum.
“I did my part to bring economic development. They’re all staying at hotels, eating at restaurants, I guess,” he told one family at the house party.
Despite his repeated knocks against the press, Bush still took questions from them at both events on Friday, weighing in on news of the day and talking about his 2016 decision-making process.
Bush acknowledged back in January that he’s worked to “overcome” his more introverted side; he’s more prone to “read a book than go out and get in a conga line.” He indicated Friday that he has no plans to avoid the retail politicking that’s required in states like New Hampshire and Iowa.
As potentially the third member of one immediate family to become president, the question naturally arose, what will help him overcome distrust for political dynasties? Bush simply replied: “Going to events like this.”
CNN’s Dana Bash and Adam Levy contributed to this report.