By JILL COLVIN
DERRY, N.H. (AP) — Newly declared Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is fast out of the gate when it comes to criticizing Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner.
In his New Hampshire debut as an official candidate, Bush commended Clinton as tough and smart Tuesday but labelled her record as secretary of state “a complete failure” and said she didn’t accomplish much as a New York senator before that.
As a presidential candidate, Clinton has run a cloistered operation with limited opportunities to face questions from the press, he said. “It’s ridiculous.”
The former Florida governor made the comments in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity that could be overheard by those at a town hall event that followed.
Appearing without a tie or jacket at the town hall that followed, Bush appeared relaxed and sounded confident and engaged as he took questions for just over an hour. He voiced his conviction that, as president, he could help the country achieve 4 percent annual growth, which many economists consider unrealistic.
“The future can be extraordinary for this country,” he told the crowd.
Bush, as he’s done before, assigned responsibility to Clinton for what he regards as President Barack Obama’s misbegotten foreign policy.
Republicans in Congress have gone after Clinton the most sharply for her handling of the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. But even apart from that, Bush said in the Fox interview, she was engaged in diplomacy that failed to reset relations with Russia and shrank U.S. commitments abroad.
On so-called enhanced interrogation techniques used during his brother’s administration that some have equated to torture, Bush said they were appropriate at the time but are no longer necessary.
After months of testing the waters, there were signs that Bush was still getting used to being a candidate. After answering his last question, Bush thanked the crowd for coming — but then interrupted his applause because he forgot to ask for something.
“I totally blew it,” he said. “This is my first day, so I’m a rookie at this, and running. I want your vote.”
New Hampshire, which has a history of backing more moderate Republican candidates, is seen as an important state for Bush. But it has also proven a difficult win for his family. In 2000, his brother, George W. Bush, lost the state to John McCain. His father stumbled when he competed for the first time in 1980 as well.
Still, he told reporters he plans to return often.
“This is my kind of campaigning,” he said through an open SUV window before driving off. “I’ll be here a lot.”
Bush is among the top candidates in a Republican race that now has a dozen notable figures, with more to come. Donald Trump entered the contest Tuesday.
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