Seeking applause line, Jeb Bush struggles with voters

DERRY, New Hampshire (AP) — Jeb Bush was once believed to be a virtual shoo-in for the Republican nomination in a crowded field of political newcomers and outsiders. But going into the second state in the primary process next week, he's doing anything he can to keep his flagging campaign on the rails.

He's begging some for votes and bear-hugging others who say they'll consider it. This week, he whispered "please clap" after delivering a commanding speech about leadership — a phrase that has since gone viral on social media.

In New Hampshire, he's been joined by his mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush, who is working to convince voters that her son is "decent and honest."

But Bush is ultimately banking on his experience as a businessman and former Florida governor to convince voters that he's best suited for the Oval Office, arguing that the three top finishers in the Iowa caucuses —Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio — aren't up to the job.

But many observers say Bush has an extremely tough battle ahead of him. It's "the end of the road for the Bush dynasty" if he can't pull out a second place finish in New Hampshire's Feb. 9 primary, said Boston University political scientist Tom Whalen.

Bush's campaign began 2016 with less than $7.6 million in the bank, less than what Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz had available. His well-financed super PAC, an outside funding group that can accept limited donations, meanwhile, had plenty of cash left to burn. Right to Rise, which attracted million-dollar checks from dozens of donors, started the year with roughly half of the $118 million it amassed in 2015.

Early preference polls do not bode well. Voters in New Hampshire are notoriously late deciders, but even some of those gathered at Bush events — he's done more than 90 town halls — say they've got their sights set on others.

At his town hall events, Bush carefully answers every question, often in detail, describing himself a proud "policy wonk." He also makes it a point, without being asked, to talk about his famous political family, embracing the legacy of his father, George H.W. Bush, and older brother, George W. Bush.

"I'm proud of my dad. I'm proud of my brother. I'm proud of being a Bush," he told a large crowd Thursday night in Derry.