HUDSON, N.H. (AP) — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told skeptical voters Friday that he would not soften his views on immigration or education to win their backing.
On his opening foray into New Hampshire for his likely campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Bush challenged voters here to spend time learning about the issues and avoid shrill partisan sniping. He said "facts don't matter" to some of his critics and told his first political audience in the state in 15 years that true leaders do not shrink from their beliefs for political expediency.
Bush, the brother of one president and the son of another, arrived in New Hampshire aware of his challenges in winning over conservative voters who see him as too moderate.
At a round-table discussion with business leaders in southern New Hampshire, Bush immediately began with a defense of his views on immigration — and a nod to his family's history here.
"My brother tried as well," Bush said, referring to George W. Bush's failed efforts on immigration. "We are in literally two decades of trying to move into the 21st century with an immigration system that makes sense."
Jeb Bush supported a bipartisan, comprehensive approach to fixing the nation's broken immigration system, which cleared the Senate. Under pressure from conservatives, support crumbled in the House, but Bush said he remains committed to finding a path for immigrants in the country illegally to find legal standing.
It was a position unlikely to calm conservatives here.
The Bush clan has a mixed record of electoral success in New Hampshire. In primaries and general elections, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush together lost as many times as they won here during their three decades in presidential politics.
Jeb Bush is betting his candor helps him beat the family odds.
Asked by a voter about his support for Common Core standards, educational benchmarks that states voluntarily adopted, Bush was direct: "Yep, I'm all in."
"Yes, it's controversial," he continued. "But I've learned, though, that because something is controversial ... you don't abandon your core beliefs. You go persuade people, as I'm trying to do right now."
At an evening session at the home of former New Hampshire GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen again was asked about the standards.
"I'm all in on that and I'm not backing down on that," he told the voter who asked the first question, again defending the need for high standards.
In New Hampshire, House Republicans have taken steps to weaken the standards — as have Republican-led legislatures across the country. They have become a politically toxic issue within the party's tea party base, and some of Bush's potential rivals have made scrapping the standards a signature issue.
Bush said the standards could have been implemented better and less politically.
"That doesn't mean the standards are bad," Bush said.
Bush marched through a packed schedule that had him meeting top New Hampshire Republicans privately and engaging in two events open to media coverage before he leaves Saturday. In this early voting state, presidential hopefuls commonly start with one-on-one or small group sessions.
At his afternoon session with business leaders, on asked Bush how he would confront Islamic State militants as president, noting George H.W. Bush faced the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and George W. Bush was president when al-Qaida attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
Jeb Bush answered with a careful dodge concerning his own White House intentions, even though his trip had all the trappings of a presidential campaign.
"I'm considering the possibility of running," Bush corrected the questioner.
"I get really nervous about not triggering a campaign with all of these people around," Bush added to laughter.