Sometimes, if you want to go to Washington, first you have to go to Washington – Iowa.
Such was the case for Jeb Bush on Wednesday morning at a meet-and-greet event in the town, population 7,266. Bush spoke to almost 100 Iowans gathered in a backyard for his first event in the first-in-the-nation caucus state since declaring his candidacy on Monday.
The former Florida governor knows Iowa well: In 1980, he quit his job to campaign for his father in the state.
“I went to about 60 of the counties here. I got to understand the spirit of Iowa. But it was not because I really cared much about politics, it was to pay back a man who has been the greatest father anybody could have,” he said.
The candidate pitched his experience as governor as the crowd grazed on doughnuts and sipped coffee. He acknowledged his competitors in the crowded Republican field, and differentiated himself by his experience.
“There are a lot of good people running. I admire them, many of them are my friends. But the question to think about is, who has the leadership skills to take conservative ideas and turn them into reality?”
But it was his references to humility that defined Bush’s Washington pitch.
The self-described introvert struck a balance of acknowledging how uncomfortable it was to boast, while selling his successes.
“In my family, you know, I was brought up not to toot my own horn,” Bush said. “I’m not a bragger. It’s hard for me to do this. But I can promise you that if I’m elected president I will work hard to change the direction of this country and I do believe I have the leadership skills to make it so. So I’m humbly here to ask for your vote,” Bush said.
He arrives in Iowa after announcing the support of notable state activist Joni Scotter and retired Reliant Energy CEO Mark Jacobs, as well as former U.S. Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Mary Kramer, among others.
On Wednesday, son Jeb, Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps, joining him on his swing through the Hawkeye State.
“I’m proud that George and [Jeb, Jr.] are actively involved in the campaign,” Bush told reporters. “And my advice is have fun, do it with joy in your heart. Don’t get too wonky, use the kind of humor that he’s got to take me down a notch or two.”
Bush also fielded a few questions from the press while in Iowa. Jeb Bush said he hadn’t yet seen the report from the Pope on climate change, but made it clear he disagrees with the Pope and won’t heed any of his advice on the issue.
“Look, the climate is changing,” Bush said. “I believe there are technological solutions for just about everything. And I’m sure there’s one for this as well. So I respect the Pope, I think he’s an incredible leader, but I think it’s better to solve this problem in the political realm… I’m a Catholic and I try to follow the teachings of the Church.”
“I don’t go to mass for economic policy or for things in politics. I’ve got enough people helping me along the way with that,” he added.
Asked whether he would support transgender Americans in the military, Bush said “I’m sure there’s a role for everybody to play in the armed forces. I think it would depend on the specific role.”
CNN’s Ashley Killough contributed to this report.