CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — The federal government needs to tear down barriers and let states do big and bold Nevada-style things with education, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said Monday in a telephone town hall with Nevada voters.
The former Florida governor said he was proud of strides his state made in education, but said the Nevada Legislature took things "to another level" with a voucher-style Education Savings Account program that allows families to use public education funds for private schools. He suggested the federal government cut back on bureaucracy and let states use Title I or special education funds to pursue their own custom reforms.
"We should lessen the regulatory requirements from Washington, shift the power back to the states and reward the kind of work you all are doing in Nevada," he said.
Bush sought to cast himself as a battle-tested leader with specific policy ideas as he struggles to overtake higher-polling, headline-grabbing primary opponents including Donald Trump.
"Most people make up their mind in the last two or three weeks, so I don't read the polls, I don't fret about all that stuff. I just work hard," he said, adding that voters "want to know who has the leadership skills to take conservative ideas and turn them into reality."
Bush panned ideas such as Trump's proposal to build a wall along the border and make Mexico pay for it, saying the suggestion was unserious. But he set his sights mainly on the general election, arguing that his fellow Republicans can't clinch the White House.
"There are candidates running who are gifted politicians but they'll never beat Hillary Clinton," he said. "If we don't beat Hillary Clinton, or we don't beat the Democratic nominee, then it's all jibber jabber, it's all just talking."
Bush took aim at Clinton's record as a senator, saying only three minor bills she sponsored ultimately became law, and said her time as secretary of state was "mired in controversy, scandal and failure."
With two months left before Republicans head to the Nevada caucuses, Bush needs to drum up a wider base of voters to turn out and support him. He already has backing from prominent Republican officeholders including Sen. Dean Heller and Assembly Majority Leader Paul Anderson, who vouched for Bush's ability to build bridges.
"We know that from Obama's example you can't just throw rocks at Congress and expect them to move and do what you say they're going to do," Anderson said. "We've got Gov. Bush who's led by example. He's show us he can work with the state Legislature and with that he'd be able to work with Congress as president."
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