DOVER, N. H. -- "This is really kind of up close and personal," Jeb Bush said, taking a look at the crowd, gathered shoulder to shoulder, to meet him here Friday night. A voice floated through the room: "Welcome to New Hampshire!" It was the former governor and potential presidential candidate's first visit to the state in years and Fergus Cullen, the former chairman of the New Hampshire GOP, invited his friends and neighbors to his house to meet Bush as he tested the water in the first-in-the-nation primary state.
Over the course of nearly an hour, Bush fielded questions on a wide range of issues, largely domestic -- from veteran's health care to the deficit to energy. That is -- after he finally made his way through the audience and gaggle of reporters. The first question cut straight to the issue that has followed Bush everywhere since he started considering a run for president: Common Core.
"The federal government should have nothing to do with standards, directly or indirectly," he said, speaking about the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. "The federal government should have nothing to do with content, directly or indirectly. The federal government should have nothing to do with curriculum." Bush emphasized his position that states should be able to set their own standards for education and assessments, but that those standards should meet or exceed the federal ones.
Earlier Friday, during a meeting with about two dozen members of the Nashua business community in Hudson, N.H., Bush went even further to defend his position -- and perhaps himself, from other popular Republicans visiting the state. "Because something is controversial," he said, "you don't abandon your core beliefs. You go persuade people, as I've tried to do right now, about why I'm for higher standards."
Bush also stood by his views on immigration, calling his plan to manage the millions of immigrants living in the United States illegally the most "realistic" and "grown up."
"Let these folks achieve earned legal status," he said, "where they work, where they don't commit crimes, where they don't receive government assistance, where they learn English and where they make a contribution because they can make a contribution as well."
When he was later asked if his views had changed, Bush denied that he had flip-flopped on immigration."The position I have, the view that I have," he said, "is the one that a path that legal status is more than enough to allow people to come out from the shadows and that's what they want."
Bush also reacted to the letter signed and sent by 47 Republican Senators to Iranian leaders. "I'm not a senator," he said, when asked if he would have signed it. "I think they signed it out of frustration that there's been no dialogue, no conversation. There's been a stifling of debate about the properness of this negotiation."
Bush is only one of many potential Republican presidential candidates making a swing through the state this weekend, just shy of a year before the state's primary next February. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) is set to arrive here on Sunday. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry wrapped up a busy two-day stretch of town hall meetings and meet-and-greets across the state Friday, while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker held private meetings with members of the business community and local elected officials.
While Walker was in Manhester, he gave an interview to the Tampa Bay Times and made it clear he's got the primary on his mind and Jeb Bush in his sights. He first praised him as a "friend" and "a good man," and said, "You're not going to hear me speak ill will of Jeb," before going on to say that the voters will want "a name from the future - not a name from the past."
Then, he predicted that yes, Bush would "have by far the biggest [fundraising] report" because "there's a lot of people who are loyal to that family because of an ambassadorship or an appointment or something like that, so those people are going to show up big on his first report. What we're hoping going forward are not donors of obligation but donors of passion, people who are passionate about the reforms we bring to the table."
Earlier this week, Walker had referred to his own "frontrunner status," and Bush took a mild swat at Walker for that comment when he spoke with reporters Friday, saying, "I'm not a candidate, maybe he is, I don't know. You can't be a frontrunner until you start running."
Walker has another day in New Hampshire - he's talking to a grassroots training session in Concord and meeting with state legislators before leaving for the Gridiron dinner in Washington.