OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — As Florida’s governor, Jeb Bush was among the nation’s most conservative state chief executives. He’s quietly embarking on work to convince the right flank of the Republican Party that he would be that same kind of conservative in the White House.

Eight years removed from office, Bush is viewed by some conservatives as a squishy moderate: a member of the GOP’s most established family with toxic positions on immigration and education standards.

For that reason, perhaps none of the likely 2016 candidates has more to gain than Bush at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, the nation’s largest annual conference of conservative activists.

“The challenge for him is this isn’t about yesterday, it’s about tomorrow,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC. “The key is, what will he do if he’s president of the United States, and does he have a message that will appeal to conservatives?”

Bush speaks at CPAC on Friday, and amid his aggressive fundraising efforts nationwide, his team and key backers are also taking steps to remind the party of his history as a conservative in office.

In phone calls and private meetings, Bush’s team is reviving old alliances with top social and economic conservatives, broadening his network of conservative opinion leaders and trying to quiet his more aggressive critics. Al Cardenas, a longtime Bush supporter and former chairman of the American Conservative Union, said it would take Bush six to eight months to “totally set the record straight.”

“As I’ve told the governor, the key word is patience,” Cardenas said. “I can tell you as a matter of fact those meetings have begun to be placed on the calendar and are beginning to take place. He wants leaders of the movement to be comfortable with his leadership.”

Cardenas and other Bush allies say the problem is one of misperception, as conservatives of a new era are simply less familiar with his record as Florida governor.

Aides say that while in office from 1999 to 2007, Bush was among the first state executives to take on teachers unions, lowered taxes each year and signed Florida’s “stand your ground” gun law. He was a hero among social conservatives for his actions to keep Michael Schiavo from removing the feeding tube from his brain-damaged wife, Terri.

Today’s criticism centers almost entirely on Bush’s support for Common Core education standards and an immigration policy that would create a path to citizenship for people living in the country illegally. He is also hurt by lingering resentment over the rise in government spending during brother George W. Bush’s administration.

Skeptics were reminded of their misgivings late last year, when Bush said a Republican might need to “lose the primary to win the general,” viewed by some as a swipe at the heavy influence of conservatives in picking the party’s White House nominee.

Just four in 10 self-identified conservatives and tea party supporters rated Bush favorably in an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted earlier this month. There was evidence, too, of anti-Bush sentiment in the crowded hotel lobbies Thursday as thousands of activists gathered for CPAC.

“I have not seen a single Jeb Bush button here,” said Neil McGettigan, 25, of New Jersey. “Honestly, I think the media’s more excited about him than anyone here.”

As they privately court prominent conservatives, Bush’s confidants are also encouraging him to outline his conservative bona fides more publicly. Longtime Bush donor Al Hoffman said he recently told the governor he needs to openly explain how his positions on immigration and Common Core are in line with conservative economic principles.

Bush’s team is also trying to win over some of his most aggressive critics. They include Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, who praises Bush’s economic record as Florida governor, but regularly attacks his refusal to sign a pledge not to raise taxes if elected president. Bush is one of the only top-tier GOP presidential contenders not to sign.

“I’ve had a bunch of people from Jeb’s world call me on behalf of the campaign,” Norquist said. “There are many things he did well as governor. … But it’s all about the pledge. It makes you wonder about whether he’s a team player.”

Some conservatives need no convincing. Bush already enjoys formal and informal support from a growing network of well-connected conservative leaders with whom he maintains regular contact.

“It’d be hard to be better than Bush on the life issue,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a national group that advocates for social conservative values and supports candidates who oppose abortion. “He’s said many times — said it to me — that he can be counted on.”

While Schlapp won’t formally endorse a presidential candidate as leader of the American Conservative Union, he said Bush had “sterling conservative credentials” as Florida governor and “took prominent conservative positions in a battleground state.”

“Conservatives play a large role in determining who the Republican nominee is,” said Schlapp, who served as political director in Bush’s brother’s White House. “People will forgive him if they connect to him when he makes his pitch. I think that’s what’s critical.”

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Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and AP news survey specialist Emily Swanson contributed to this report from Washington. Beaumont reported from Palm Beach, Florida.

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Follow Steve Peoples and Thomas Beaumont on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/sppeoples and http://twitter.com/tombeaumont

AP-GfK poll shows voter distaste for Putin-style leadership
WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump has called Russian President Vladimir Putin “a leader — unlike what we have in this country.”

But most Americans don’t agree with Trump’s assessment of Putin’s leadership skills, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows.

Only 24 percent of registered voters say Putin has leadership qualities that would be good for an American president to share, while 71 percent say he does not. In fact, a majority, 56 percent, said they have an unfavorable view of Putin, while only 10 percent said they view the Russian leader favorably.

 Voters were split on whether Trump would be too close to Putin, with 42 percent saying they think Trump would be too close, and 41 percent saying his approach would be about right. Fourteen percent think he would not be close enough.
By comparison, most voters (53 percent) think Democrat Hillary Clinton’s relationship with Putin would be about right, while 11 percent think she would be too close and 32 percent think she would not be close enough.

The relationship between the Republican nominee and the Russian strongman began taking on new life when Putin praised Trump last December as “bright and talented” and “the absolute leader of the presidential race.”

The billionaire businessman hailed Putin’s regard for him as a “great honor,” brushing off widespread allegations that the Russian president has ordered the killing of political dissidents and journalists.

“Our country does plenty of killing also,” Trump told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in December.

Four in 10 Trump supporters and only 1 in 10 Hillary Clinton supporters say Putin has leadership qualities that would be good for an American president to have. Still, even among Trump’s supporters, just 16 percent have a favorable opinion of Putin. Only 5 percent of Clinton’s supporters do.

Marissa Garth, a 28-year-old stay-at-home mom from Smithfield, Utah, said she plans to vote for Trump this November because he exhibits the qualities of a strong leader — not to be compared with Putin.

“I think (Putin) is a strong leader for his country,” she said. “But at the same time I don’t think he necessarily has the qualities that I would want as a president.”

In fact, the poll finds that men are more likely than women to say that Putin has leadership qualities that would be good in an American president, 28 percent to 19 percent.

Among Clinton’s supporters, 69 percent say Trump would be too close to Putin. Forty-nine percent of those supporting another candidate share that view, but only 8 percent of Trump supporters say their candidate would be too close to Putin. Eighty percent of Trump supporters say his approach would be about right. Among conservatives, 20 percent say Trump would be too close to Putin.

There is nothing 54-year old Gary Sellers, of Homewood, Illinois, likes about Putin — or Trump. He called Putin a “dictator,” adding, “there are no qualities of his that I wish that an American president would have.”

A lukewarm Clinton supporter, he’s concerned that Trump shares Putin’s extreme views of governing. “I feel he has a dictatorial approach toward being president of the United States,” Sellers said of Trump.

Forty-seven percent of voters say they approve and 52 percent disapprove of President Barack Obama’s handling of the U.S. relationship with Russia.

Voters are divided over whether the next president should take a tougher approach to Putin (42 percent) or whether the current approach is about right (39 percent). Just 16 percent think the next president should take a friendlier approach.

Just under half of voters (48 percent) say the U.S. relationship with Russia is a very or extremely important issue, ranking it low on Americans’ list of priorities, far below issues like the economy (92 percent), the threat posed by the Islamic State group (70 percent), the U.S. role in world affairs more generally (68 percent) and immigration (60 percent).

There’s a generational divide over Russia. Two-thirds of voters age 65 and over and more than half of those between 50 and 64 call the U.S. relationship with Russia very or extremely important, while only 4 in 10 30-49 year olds and only a third of those under 30 say the same.

Generally speaking, voters are more likely to say they trust Clinton than Trump on negotiating with Russia, 40 percent to 33 percent. Nineteen percent say they trust neither and 7 percent trust both equally.

John Eppenger, 68, a retiree in Fairfield, Ala., said that when it comes to dealing with Russia, Clinton would “do a much better job than Trump. She’s not perfect, she’s not ideal, but she’s better.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,694 adults, including 1,476 registered voters, was conducted online Sept. 15-19, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, and for registered voters is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t have access to the internet were provided access for free.

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Online:

Poll results: http://ap-gfkpoll.com


AP-GfK Poll: Majority of Americans fear Trump presidency

By JONATHAN LEMIRE and EMILY SWANSON

NEW YORK (AP) — More than half the country fears a Trump presidency. And only about a third of Americans believe he is at least somewhat qualified to serve in the White House.

In the final sprint to Election Day, a new Associated Press-GfK poll underscores those daunting roadblocks for Donald Trump as he tries to overtake Hillary Clinton.

Moreover, most voters oppose the hard-line approach to immigration that is a centerpiece of the billionaire businessman’s campaign. They are more likely to trust Clinton to handle a variety of issues facing the country, and Trump has no advantage on the national security topics also at the forefront of his bid.

Trump undoubtedly has a passionate base of support, seen clearly among the thousands of backers who fill the stands at his signature rallies. But most people don’t share that fervor. Only 29 percent of registered voters would be excited and just 24 percent would be proud should Trump prevail in November.

Only one in four voters find him even somewhat civil or compassionate, and just a third say he’s not at all racist.

“We as Americans should be embarrassed about Donald Trump,” said Michael DeLuise, 66, a retired university vice president and registered Republican who lives in Eugene, Oregon. “We as Americans have always been able to look at the wacky leaders of other countries and say ‘Phew, that’s not us.’ We couldn’t if Trump wins. It’s like putting P.T. Barnum in charge. And it’s getting dangerous.”

To be sure, the nation is sour on Clinton, too. Only 39 percent of voters have a favorable view of the Democratic nominee, compared to the 56 percent who view her unfavorably. Less than a third say they would be excited or proud should she move into the White House.

“I think she’s an extremely dishonest person and have extreme disdain for her and her husband,” said one registered Republican, Denise Pettitte, 36, from Watertown, Wisconsin. “I think it would be wonderful to elect a woman, but a different woman.”

But as poorly as voters may view Clinton, they think even less of Trump.

Forty-four percent say they would be afraid if Clinton, the former secretary of state, is elected, far less than say the same of Trump. He’s viewed more unfavorably than favorably by a 61 percent to 34 percent margin, and more say their unfavorable opinion of the New Yorker is a strong one than say the same of Clinton, 50 percent to 44 percent.

That deep distain for both candidates prompts three-quarters of voters to say that a big reason they’ll be casting their ballot is to stop someone, rather than elect someone.

“It’s not really a vote for her as it’s a vote against Trump,” said Mark Corbin, 59, a business administrator and registered Democrat from Media, Pennsylvania.

Roughly half of voters see Clinton at least somewhat qualified, while just 30 percent say Trump is.

Even when it comes to what may be Clinton’s greatest weakness, the perception that she is dishonest, Trump fails to perform much better: 71 percent say she’s only slightly or not at all honest, while 66 percent say the same of Trump. Forty-nine percent say Clinton is at least somewhat corrupt, but 43 percent say that of Trump.

“Whatever her problems are, they don’t even come close to him,” said JoAnn Dinkelman, 66, a Republican from Rancho Cucamonga, California, who will cross party lines and vote for Clinton. “Everything that comes out of his mouth that is fact-checked turns out to be a lie.”

Trump finds no respite with voters when it comes to what he vows to do as president, either.

Nearly 6 in 10 oppose his promise to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and only 21 percent of his supporters and 9 percent of registered voters overall are very confident he would succeed at fulfilling his promise that Mexico would pay for the construction.

Six in 10 believe there should be a way for immigrants living in the country illegally to become U.S. citizens — a view that Trump opposes.

“The wall isn’t the answer. It’s not feasible and Mexico won’t pay for it,” said Timothy Seitz, 26, a graduate student at the Ohio State University and a Republican. “We should be leaders. We shouldn’t cower from others and cut ourselves off in the world.”

Beyond immigration, voters say they trust Clinton over Trump by wide margins when it comes to health care, race relations and negotiations with Russia. She also narrowly tops Trump when it comes to filling Supreme Court vacancies, as well as another of the billionaire’s signature issues: handling international trade.

Trump is narrowly favored on creating jobs, 39 percent to 35 percent, while in general, voters are about equally split on which candidate would better handle the economy. Voters are slightly more likely to trust Trump than Clinton on handling gun laws, 39 percent to 35 percent.

Voters are closely split on which candidate would better handle protecting the country and evenly divided on which would better handle the threat posed by the Islamic State group. And Americans are much more likely to say they trust Clinton than Trump to do a better job handling the U.S. image abroad.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,694 adults, including 1,476 registered voters, was conducted online Sept. 15-19, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, and for registered voters plus or minus 2.7 points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t have access to the internet were provided access for free.

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Online:

Poll results: http://ap-gfkpoll.com