Searching for a comeback, Bush kicks off 2016 with New Hampshire swing

Story highlights

  • Bush has a little more than a month to pull himself ahead of the crowded field of Republicans
  • Bush is one of several Republican candidates in New Hampshire this week

Derry, New Hampshire (CNN)Jeb Bush on Tuesday kicked off his first trip of the year in New Hampshire, resuming his quest to make an epic comeback and relying heavily on the first-in-the-nation primary state to get him there.

Bush has a little more than a month to pull himself ahead of the crowded field of Republicans vying for a top spot in the state's important contest on February 9. In the front of that race is Donald Trump, and Bush has ramped up his strategy to become the anti-Trump candidate in hopes that voters who feel disenfranchised by the front-runner will coalesce around Bush instead.
"If you're a disabled person, it's not very funny when you get disparaged by the leading candidate in the Republican Party. Or if you're a woman and you get disparaged, it's not funny at all," Bush told a small audience at a town hall in Derry on Tuesday morning. "If you're looking for some guy like that, I'm not your guy."
    Bush is one of several Republican candidates in New Hampshire this week. Many of them, including Bush, will attend a forum combating drug addiction and the heroin epidemic. But the dominating topic of the day is guns, as President Barack Obama rolls out his new executive actions aimed to curb gun violence.
    In recent interviews, op-eds and campaign videos, Bush has been adamant in his support for Second Amendment rights and opposition to Obama's new policies. At his town hall, he blasted Obama for bypassing Congress, saying he "doesn't have the authority to do it" and argued that efforts to close the so-called gun show loop hole won't "solve any problems."
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    Bush noticeably omitted one of his talking points about gun rights, in which he regularly tells a story about Charlton Heston awarding him a rifle after becoming NRA "Statesman of the Year" in 2003. After months of Bush telling that story, the campaign admitted Monday that the story wasn't accurate, saying Bush was "mistaken" and had "conflated" other stories.
    Still, Bush touted Tuesday his record of cracking down on gun violence as governor of Florida, mostly through the "10-20-Life" law, which issues a minimum 10-year sentence for anyone who pulls a gun while committing a crime, 20 years for pulling the trigger during a crime and 25 years to life for injuring or killing someone by firing a gun.
    But Bush got some pushback when a woman in the audience interrupted him to say, "Trayvon Martin would disagree."
    "The simple fact is gun violence has declined about 30% when we imposed severe penalties for people committing crimes with guns," Bush responded, as the woman shook her head. "And we are a pro-Second Amendment state. And I'm totally proud of that."
    Manchester resident Mike Whitten had a different opinion of Bush. After the town hall, he approached the candidate to tell him that he was torn between Bush and Marco Rubio, but has now decided to vote for Bush.
    Whitten said he was impressed with the "substance" behind Bush's answers at the town hall and his record as governor. "He really showed that he cared about one-on-one interaction with voters," he added.
    It's that kind of in-person appeal that Bush and his advisers hope will propel him in the coming weeks as voters start making their final decisions.
    One potential strategy could be bringing out Bush's brother, former President George W. Bush, as a surrogate. The former president's popularity has soared in recent years, with a Bloomberg Politics poll in November finding that 77% of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters had a favorable opinion of the former president.
    "It is something to consider because he is very popular," Jeb Bush said Tuesday morning on Fox News. "I also know I need to go earn this."
    The concern about bringing the former president out on the trail may be more about its implications for the future, should Bush go on to the general election. It's a worry that Mitt Romney brought up in a recent interview with the Washington Post, saying "I like Jeb a lot, I think he'd be a great president, but felt he was unfairly but severely burdened by the W. years."
    Romney said he told Bush as much when the two met privately early last year.
    Asked on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" if Bush agreed that his candidacy could be hampered by his brother's legacy, the Republican candidate said "absolutely not."
    "Any mistakes I make, they're my own," he added. "My brother and my family, I'm honored to be part of that family. I love them dearly. And all the psycho-babble that goes along with it, I've gotten over it."
    Bush was pressed further on whether he thinks the 43rd president should be condemning Trump publicly just as much as he is.
    "I think that's my job," Bush said. "You got to take on the bully head on and that's what I'm doing."