GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hit the midterm election campaign trail in politically important North Carolina Wednesday, stumping for state House Speaker Thom Tillis and becoming the latest possible presidential contender to get behind the party's effort to win control of the Senate.
Bush's visit to a small lighting distribution company in central North Carolina, and later a fundraiser, for Tillis was aimed at helping the Republican Senate candidate oust vulnerable Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan in one of the nation's most closely-watched races. But the appearance, like a slate of events Bush is headlining before the November election, gave him a platform to speak in sweeping terms about the country's ills and the prospect of a "new American century."
Bush has said he'll make a decision on a White House bid by the end of the year. He gave no clues to his leanings Wednesday, saying the decision process wouldn't take that long and would involve family.
"It seems to me in order to get back on track for our country we have to fix a few big things and this country will take off," Bush said in a Greensboro warehouse, pointing to loosening burdensome business regulations, simplifying the tax code and harnessing fully the energy economy. "And most of the big things that need to be fixed are in Washington, D.C."
While keeping a relatively low profile compared to other potential 2016 contenders, the Republican former two-term governor has headlined more than two dozen private fundraising events for GOP candidates and committees this year. The events have included those that benefit governors in early-presidential primary states of South Carolina, Iowa and Nevada. Next week, Bush is scheduled to head to Kansas to help Sen. Pat Roberts hold off an unexpectedly strong challenge from independent candidate Greg Orman. And in October, Bush is slated to appear for Gov. Nikki Haley in South Carolina, the first-in-the-South presidential primary state.
North Carolina wants to be more of player in the presidential politics, too. The legislature last year moved up its usual May presidential primary by at least two months.
Bush downplayed the link between his travel and his presidential decision-making, saying his election season tour is about helping Republicans gain the six seats required to grab control of U.S. Senate control and keep the House in GOP hands. Then, he said, the GOP has an opportunity to show it can lead.
People are still struggling in a recovering economy, he added, because basic problems haven't been fixed and "I believe the Republican leadership in Washington will start that and may force the president to actually do his job as well."
On foreign policy, Bush said that President Obama's plan to counter Islamic State militants was "very sketchy" and that if he laid out a "real" strategy "that people could believe in you might find that there'd be broad support for it."
Other potential presidential candidates aren't ignoring North Carolina, either. Bush is the second of three coming to North Carolina on behalf of Tillis in consecutive weeks. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited Wilmington with Tillis last week, while Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky announced Wednesday he's visiting Raleigh for Tillis on Oct. 1 — notable because Paul endorsed tea party favorite Greg Brannon in the state's GOP Senate primary last spring, not Tillis.
Associated Press writer Michael J. Mishak contributed to this report.