COLUMBIA, S.C. – Republican Jeb Bush ended his campaign for the presidency Saturday after a disappointing finish in South Carolina, acknowledging a failure to harness the hopes of Republican voters angry at the political establishment.
The former Florida governor and political scion told supporters in Columbia that he’d tried to stay true to what he believes. Still, he was lagging far behind in the primary in South Carolina, where his well-organized campaign was outmatched by insurgent billionaire Donald Trump, and Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
“I’m proud of the campaign that we’ve run to unify our country and to advocate conservative solutions,” a visibly emotional Bush said. “The presidency is bigger than any one person. It’s certainly bigger than any one candidate.”
The son of George H. W. Bush and brother of George W. Bush entered the race to huge expectations in June, and quickly fueled them with fundraising. Working with a super PAC that has supported his candidacy, Bush and allies raised more than $150 million by the end of 2015 – far more than any of his GOP rivals.
However, Bush’s presence in the race and fundraising potential wasn’t enough to dissuade more than a dozen other Republicans from entering the race, including fellow Floridian, Sen. Marco Rubio.
Fundraising reports filed Saturday night show how dire Bush’s financial situation had become.
His big-money super PAC raised just $379,000 in January, and most of that was from a single donor who’d also given the same amount to rival Marco Rubio. The group, Right to Rise, had blown through more than $85 million over the past nine months, largely on TV ads, bashing other candidates, most notably Rubio.
Meanwhile, Bush’s official campaign – which provided basic funding for his travel and political staff – had less than $3 million in available cash as the month began. He had only been able to raise $1.6 million in January, despite a once-sprawling donor network.
Bush’s failure to ignite was not simply a factor of the size of the GOP field. Bush, like others, was caught off-guard by the durable popularity of political outsiders – particularly Trump.
“I firmly believe the American people must entrust this office to someone who understands that whoever holds it is a servant, not the master,” Bush said as he withdrew from the race on Saturday.
The final stage of Bush’s campaign became an all-out bout with the outspoken real estate mogul – the two frequently referring to each other as a “loser.” Bush took shots at Trump’s lack of experience while Trump attacked Bush’s family legacy, particularly the unpopular Iraq war waged by his brother George W. Bush.
Bush, meanwhile, offered himself as an experienced public executive and potential world statesman informed in part by his father’s and brother’s wartime presidencies. But it wasn’t a case strong enough to translate into votes.
“I just don’t see a third Bush presidency,” Julie Michau of Beaufort, South Carolina, said Wednesday after attending a Bush event.
There were other problems as well. The policy-oriented Bush was overshadowed in early debates by Trump and Rubio, which dramatically slowed his early autumn fundraising.
Bush went on to finish sixth in the Iowa caucuses, but barely squeezed ahead of Rubio in New Hampshire for a fourth place finish. South Carolina was viewed as a last early voting state for Bush to make a mark.
Having previously kept his family at arm’s length, Bush brought all family ties to the forefront ahead of South Carolina, where his father and brother both won primaries as they pursued the presidency. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough.
Associated Press writers Julie Bykowicz and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.
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