Jeb Bush: ‘This is the beginning of the campaign’

Jeb Bush talks to reporters today during his "Jeb Can Fix It" tour.
Jeb Bush talks to reporters today during his “Jeb Can Fix It” tour.

WINTER PARK — He spent months visiting Iowa and New Hampshire as an undeclared candidate and made an official announcement in June that he’s running for president.

But Jeb Bush told reporters it’s still early in the race as he kicked off a “Jeb Can Fix It Tour” in hopes of reviving his struggling campaign.

“This is the beginning of the campaign. Look at the past. Herman Cain was winning right now (in 2011). Hillary Clinton was up 25 points this time eight years ago against an unknown guy whose name now is President Barack Obama. So this is the start of our journey,” Bush told reporters after visiting a center that helps people with cerebral palsy and other motor deficiencies.

He visited the Conductive Learning Center of Orlando to highlight his experience helping people with disabilities while he was governor. Bush says that practical executive experience distinguishes him from political outsiders like Donald Trump and Ben Carson or someone who has only held legislative office like Sen. Marco Rubio.

“There’s big personalities on the stage,” said Bush. “But no one’s going to be lifted out of poverty, no one’s going to get a pay increase just by talking down our country. We need tangible solutions to these big challenges we face and I don’t think you can, as we did eight years ago almost, bet on someone that doesn’t have a proven record of accomplishment.”

Comparing the young, charismatic first-term Sen. Rubio to the Sen. Obama of eight years ago is a recurring theme for Bush. But when asked specifically if he’s “frustrated” that former protégé Rubio has surpassed him in the polls, Bush said: “I’m not frustrated about him. He’s a great guy, he’s a good friend, he’s a gifted politician. I just have the leadership skills to solve these problems. We have a little disagreement on that.”

Bush was introduced by U.S. Rep. John Mica, who alluded to Bush’s debate performance problems by saying the presidential race is “not a contest for the American Idol.”

Mica said he had to leave early to get to Washington for a congressional vote.

“Get on that plane….I just want to make sure you go back and vote because that’s what you were elected to do and you have a great attendance record,” said Bush, who has criticized Rubio for missing Senate votes while campaigning for president.

Jeb Bush: ‘You can’t just tell Congress ‘You’re Fired’ and go to a commercial break’

New theme for the Jeb Bush campaign.
New theme for the Jeb Bush campaign.

Jeb Bush is trying to reinvigorate his campaign by contrasting his eight-year record as a conservative governor with Donald Trump’s reality-show bombast and Sen. Marco Rubio’s lack of executive experience.

Bush didn’t mention Trump or Rubio by name in a speech this morning in Tampa to kick off his “Jeb Can Fix It” tour, but the implications were clear.

“The answer isn’t sending someone from one side of the capital city to the other. The solution won’t be found in someone who has never demonstrated the capacity to implement conservative ideas. And you can’t just tell Congress… ‘You’re Fired’… and go to a commercial break,” Bush’s prepared remarks said.

Read the complete text of Bush’s speech, as released by his campaign, below:

“Thank you. It’s great to be in Tampa with so many friends.

“Today, we begin a four-day trip across Florida, South Carolina, and New Hampshire to tell the Florida story.

“The story of a big, diverse state, shaped by conservative, results-oriented leadership.

“Reforming government.  Disrupting the status quo. Challenging the special interests. Restoring opportunity. Refusing to compromise in the defense of freedom. Lifting people up, not tearing them down.

“Standing up for everyone.

“Our story is about action.

“Doing, not just talking.

“Listening, not just lecturing.

“That is my story.  And I’m so grateful and honored to have had the opportunity to lead this great state as your governor.

“Last year, I decided that I wanted to share my story with people across the country.

“So, I wrote a book.

“Well really, I didn’t write it. Not in a traditional sense. I emailed it!

“They used to call me the e-governor.

“For eight years, I gave out my jeb@jeb.org email address to anyone who wanted to talk to me.

“And email they did!

“People across the state told me their stories.

“Sometimes they asked questions.

“Sometimes they asked for help.

“One lady asked me to get a raccoon out of her attic, and I got my team right on it!

“But Floridians always gave me their opinions.

“And man, they didn’t hold back.

“So, I listened. I tried to answer every email.

“It wasn’t something I could have predicted at the start of my time in office, but this 8-year conversation with Florida shaped my governorship.

“So, in writing my book, I used my email exchanges to tell the Florida story. To tell about the work to turn one of America’s largest states into an economic engine where people could live, work and raise their family in safety and security…

“With huge promise for the future and free from the heavy hand of government.

“That is what my book is about.

“Here is my shameless plug:

“The book is called ‘Reply All.’ It’s out today and you can get it on Amazon.com.

“Going back and re-reading these emails reminded me of the challenges we tackled together and how much can be accomplished with strong, conservative leadership.

“That is why I am running for the Presidency of the United States.

“You see, America is in a time of testing, at home and abroad.

“People are frustrated.

“People are worried about what the future holds for our nation.

“And I share that sentiment with them.

“Our economy has suffered its slowest recovery since the Great Depression.

“One in ten able-bodied Americans can’t find full-time work, or have given up looking altogether.

“One in seven Americans lives in poverty.

“One in five children is on food stamps.

“Barack Obama has given us two trillion dollars of new taxes, but still managed to grow the national debt by eight trillion – placing an immoral burden on working families and the next generation.

“The world is in turmoil, as America withdraws from its responsibilities.

“ISIS has declared a Caliphate the size of Indiana.

“In Syria and Iraq, they are indiscriminately killing moderate Muslims, Christians, Western journalists …anyone who stands in the way of their fanatic ideology.

“Red lines get crossed without consequence, unleashing a humanitarian crisis as four million Syrian refugees flee their native land.

“Vladimir Putin is siding with the brutal Syrian dictator; sending weapons systems to Iran; and continuing to defy the Western world in Ukraine.

“All the while, our President has negotiated an agreement that gives legitimacy to Tehran and does nothing to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“For the first time in the history of Israel, its greatest existential threat has been created by its greatest ally.

“The 2016 election arrives at the juncture of our failures abroad, and restlessness at home.

“And soon, Americans will once again enter a time for choosing …

“A chance to set a new course for the country.

“As you may have heard, last week, I was in Colorado for the third Republican presidential debate.

“If you watched the debate, you probably came away thinking this election is about sound bites…or fantasy football…or which candidate can interrupt the loudest.

“I’m here to tell you it’s not.

“This election is not about a set of personalities. It’s about a set of principles.

“It is about leadership.

“It is about the right vision to lead America through turbulent waters, after two terms of a divider-in-chief who has sliced and diced the electorate by class, income, grievance and creed.

“So the choice we face is whether to summon the courage to give rise to an era of new possibility or to indulge this new age of cynicism.

“For all his promise, perhaps President Obama’s greatest accomplishment is that of creating competing pessimisms.

“Members of his own party are left explaining how two percent growth, massive debt, and increasing global isolation are really the best we can do.

“They speak in delusional terms about containing ISIS; about trusting the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism; about how the presence of Russian soldiers on Syrian soil doesn’t underscore the president’s empty words and total inaction.

“It’s not working.

“And all President Obama has left is the politics of divide and conquer. Signing lawless executive orders that ignore the Constitution and launching partisan attacks, such as comparing his critics to Iranian hard-liners.

“Americans have had enough of our president’s many strawman arguments.

“And, of a front-running candidate who blames a vast right wing conspiracy instead of taking personal responsibility, and who declares roughly half the country is her enemy.

“If Secretary Clinton has her way, the next four years will be like the last eight: gridlock, grievance, division, demonization.

“This is the only way they know how to win.

“On the issue of immigration, they have written a script for Republicans, filled with grievance and resentment.

“Frankly, the last thing they want is a Republican challenger who takes them out of their comfort zone of forced indignation and PC platitudes.

“But let me be clear: I’m not stepping into the role of “angry agitator” that they have created for us, because it’s not what’s in my heart.

“It is not true to the conservative cause. And, in the end, that role is just a bit part in the story of another conservative loss and another liberal victory.

“That’s their plan, and I’m not going to play along.

“But I fear the President has already succeeded in setting the trap for our party, bringing a new pessimism on the right.

“Some people on the debate stage talked of a country that was once great, but now is in dramatic decline.

“They say our best days are behind us.

“I acknowledge the difficulties and challenges we face.

“But I reject this kind of thinking.

“Not because I don’t understand it, but because I know it is not true.

“There is an important place in our politics for righteous indignation.

“But anger that leads to resentment without delivering results will take us down a path to perdition.

“I believe America’s best days are not behind us, but squarely in front of us. If we elect the right leadership.

“And as your President, I will fight every day with a reformer’s heart.

“I will lead.

“And I will tear down the barriers that keep Americans from rising up and realizing their God-given potential.

“I will do so keenly aware of the problems that give rise to the deep frustration all of us share …frustration over a porous border… workers’ wages remaining stagnant …and an ever-shrinking pie for families living paycheck to paycheck.

“This won’t be solved with more talk.

“The answer isn’t sending someone from one side of the capital city to the other.

“The solution won’t be found in someone who has never demonstrated the capacity to implement conservative ideas.

“And you can’t just tell Congress… ‘You’re Fired’… and go to a commercial break.

“You have to bring people together to solve problems.

“The challenges we face as a nation are too great to roll the dice on another presidential experiment.

“To trust the rhetoric of reform over a record of reform.

“After seven years of incompetence, corruption and gridlock in Washington, we need a president who can fix it.

“I can fix it.

“After seven years of historic cuts to our military…a foreign policy based on leading from behind…the emboldening of our enemies and the isolation of our allies…we need a president who fixes America’s standing abroad.

“I can fix it.

“After seven years of massive deficits, historic debt, and a president who vetoes defense spending because he wants more reckless spending, we need a president who fixes our budgetary mess.

“I can fix it.

“I know I can fix it…because I’ve done it.

“In Florida, we showed how strong, hands-on leadership could make a difference in the lives of people.

“I gave out my e-mail address because I wanted Floridians to know that their governor cared about them and wanted to help solve their problems.

“I remember emailing with an honor student named Kirsty Edwards who couldn’t pass the FCAT to graduate because of her disability.

“We listened and changed the law so Kirsty could get her high school diploma and go onto graduate from college.

“I remember emailing with single moms like Tina Calloway who needed help collecting child support from absent fathers.

“Their calls for assistance motivated us to increase child support collection by 90 percent.

“And I remember emailing with teachers like Alleen Miller who joined our cause of improving schools, even though their union pressured them to fight us every step of the way.

“I went to Tallahassee as an agent of change.

“I turned the political culture of Tallahassee upside down.

“I’m putting The Beltway on notice. I’ll turn Washington upside down too.

“We took on the teachers union to make Florida a national leader in parental choice and school accountability.

“We took on the public employee union to shrink the size of the state bureaucracy by 11 percent.

“We took on trial lawyers to rein in frivolous lawsuits and make our business climate more conducive to small business growth.

“And we took on big spending politicians from both parties to balance eight budgets and cut taxes eight years in a row by a total of $19 billion dollars.

“By the way, I vetoed 2,500 line items, eliminating more than $2 billion dollars of pork-barrel spending.

“My good friend and the Speaker of the House, John Thrasher, reacted by calling me Veto Corleone.

“That was not meant as a term of endearment at the time, but I wear it as a badge of honor today.

“The story of my governorship was one of using conservative principles to provide people with opportunity to improve their lives.

“I governed on the premise that there are no second class citizens. No second rate dreams. In America, every citizen is an asset. Every life matters.

“And every American has a right to rise to their God-given potential.

“If you want a president who maintains the status quo, I am not your candidate.

“But if you want fundamental conservative reform…reform that can be found in the record, not just the rhetoric…then I ask for your support.

“Our times are difficult, but not nearly as difficult as what Lincoln faced when he took office … what FDR faced on December 8th of 1941.

“We have long been blessed with a benevolent presidency.  Leaders who turned both our highest hopes and our worst fears into dramatic, lasting change that left the world a better place.

“Leaders who held the nation’s highest office with humility.  Who went on bended knee before God, asking His help in carrying out orders that would determine the fate of millions.

“It was Lincoln who spoke at his second Inauguration … a few weeks before the end of the war … soothing words of healing and hope, ‘With malice toward none, with charity for all. With firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in…’

“If Lincoln were alive today, imagine the foolishness he would have to suffer.

“Advisers telling him to shave his beard.

“Cable pundits telling him to lose the top hat.

“Opposition researchers calling him a five-time loser before the age of 50.

“I have gotten a lot of advice lately myself…more than enough.

“Some is stylistic. Take off the suit coat. Ditch the glasses. Get rid of the purple striped tie.

“Man, I like that tie.

“Some advice is more strategic. Nail that zinger. Be angrier. Hide your inner wonk.

“But I have learned two important things from my time serving the people of Florida:

“One, I can’t be someone I’m not.

“And, two, getting things done isn’t about yelling into a camera, or regurgitating sound bites free of substance.

“The campaign trail is littered with candidates disguised as television critics. Politicians echoing poll-tested pabulum.

“But leadership is something far different.

“It’s not about telling people what they want to hear, but what they must hear.

“It’s not about saying the right thing, but doing the right thing.

“And it’s not about tearing people down, but about bringing people together.

“I will do everything in my power to win this race, but there are some things I am not willing to do:

“I will not compromise my principles,

“I will not trade in an optimistic outlook to put on the cloak of an angry agitator.

“And I will not make anyone feel small so I can feel big.

“Americans are looking for a president, not a pundit…a leader and not a protester.

“For seven years we have been led by a cynic-in-chief.

“It is time we elected a Commander-in-chief.

“A president who knows leadership involves summoning the will and creativity to solve tomorrow’s challenges and seize tomorrow’s opportunities.

“I am running this campaign on my own terms. And let me tell you something: when the dust clears, and the delegates are counted, we will win this campaign.

“I will be true to myself, optimistic and inclusive.

“I will win appealing to our better angels, and not our greatest fears.

“And I will win with a message that welcomes all and includes all, because I will be a president who fights for all.

“Join me in this journey.  Fight with me as we work to fundamentally change the culture of Washington.

“Let us seek to redeem the promise of a fledgling Republic formed well over 200 years ago.

“A land full of endless promise and limitless possibility for all so blessed to be called Americans.

“The future is in our hands.

“Let us seize it together with faith, hope and trust. In ourselves. In one another. In the God who made us and guides us.

“Thank you. God bless America.”

Today: Bush launches ‘Jeb Can Fix It’ tour in three Florida cities

Jeb Bush speaking at a rally in Punta Gorda on Friday.
Jeb Bush speaking at a rally in Punta Gorda on Friday.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush will try to revive his slumping campaign and reassure donors and supporters with a speech in Tampa this morning and appearances in Orlando and Jacksonville this afternoon.

Follow PostOnPolitics.com and @gbennettpost on Twitter for coverage today.

Bush is beginning a “Jeb Can Fix It” tour that coincides with the release today of an e-book, “Reply All,” based on Bush’s email correspondence when he was governor. He’ll visit South Carolina on Tuesday before beginning a three-day bus tour in New Hampshire.

Bush famously pledged to run a “joyful” campaign for president. But there hasn’t been a lot of joy after months of ridicule from unlikely front runner Donald Trump, declining poll numbers, cuts to his campaign staff and a debate last week in which he was shown up by onetime protégé Marco Rubio.

While Republican voters have been telling pollsters they favor political outsiders Trump and Ben Carson, Bush is trying to sell them on his eight years of experience as a conservative governor who solved problems.

The Bush camp says today’s Tampa speech “will be a rejection of the ‘competing pessimisms’ created in the Obama era in favor of leadership that solves problems. Jeb will draw on his experience in overcoming challenges to pass conservative reforms that improve peoples lives, through stories from his new book ‘Reply All.'”

Throughout this week, Bush plans to highlight stories from his emails “to highlight how he will be a President that will enact conservative reforms and get things done.”

Poll: Which network has been best at moderating GOP debates?

Debate moderators Carl Quintanilla, left, Becky Quick, center, and John Harwood appear during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Debate moderators Carl Quintanilla, left, Becky Quick, center, and John Harwood appear during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

In the wake of the third Republican primary debate, hosted by CNBC, we want to know: Which network has had the best panel of moderators for the GOP debates?

CNBC was heavily criticized for its moderating Wednesday night, both by the audience — and the participants.

Vote in our poll, and comment to share your thoughts.

» POLL: Who won the third GOP debate?

Poll: Who won the third GOP debate?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The third GOP debate of the presidential primary season is over, and we want to know: Who do you think was the winner?

Vote in our poll below.

You can also check out a recap of our live chat, or check out the results of our poll on the second GOP debate.

Four Floridians to watch in tonight’s GOP presidential debate

bush carson rubio trumpSure, the PostOnPolitics blog is Florida-centric.

But so is the 2016 Republican presidential race.

Three Florida residents and part-time Palm Beacher Donald Trump will command much of the attention in tonight’s third GOP debate from Colorado on CNBC.

You can check out our debate live chat here.

For those not watching the World Series tonight, here are some things to watch from Florida’s Republican contenders, in alphabetical order:

** Jeb Bush: The former Florida governor began the race as the establishment favorite, but has slipped in the polls — even plunging to single digits in his home state in one recent survey. Last week, the Bush campaign slashed staff and reduced salaries after weaker-than-expected fundraising. After two solid but not memorable debate performances and months of ridicule from Trump about being “low energy,” there’s pressure on Bush to reassure the GOP establishment and donor base by appearing strong and perhaps even “joyful.”

** Ben Carson: The West Palm Beach resident has risen steadily in the polls and even surpassed Trump in one survey this week. He’ll likely get more attention from Trump and more scrutiny from CNBC moderators tonight. Don’t be surprised if the other GOP candidates lay off, however, because Republican voters clearly like Carson. Tonight those Carson fans will get an extended chance to confirm or second-guess their feelings.

** Marco Rubio: Rubio has moved ahead of mentor Bush in most polls and is vying to become the clear leader in the GOP’s establishment primary to determine the leading alternative to political outsiders Trump and Carson. Rubio has generally avoided clashes with Trump, Bush and other rivals. But his Senate absenteeism has come under fire from Democrats and Republicans alike and will likely come up tonight.

** Donald Trump: He has defied the laws of political gravity for four months, so blog posts suggesting what he needs to do or what to expect from him should be taken with a 44-pound bag of salt.  Talking about his polling success has been a major part of Trump’s campaign so far, so it’ll be interesting to see how he interacts with Carson now that Carson has moved ahead of Trump in recent Iowa polls and is getting closer in national polls.

Cerabino: Who pays for billion-dollar bomber? Florida retirees

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By Frank Cerabino
Palm Beach Post columnist

The big economic news for Florida this week is that Northrop Grumman got awarded the contract for the Air Force’s new long range strike bomber.

Florida taxpayers have been paying corporate welfare, er … I mean, participating in economic partnerships … with Northrop Grumman in Melbourne in the hopes that the defense contractor would win the bomber project, and then be grateful enough to drop some of the golden crumbs on us.

So the news that Northrop Grumman beat out the team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin for a contract that’s expected to be about $55 billion was greeted as a kind of victory for Florida by lawmakers, who are already tallying the hypothetical 1,500 high-paying jobs coming to Florida’s Space Coast because of it.

And funding the program for a new bat-wing bomber to replace the B-2 stealth bomber was made more secure this week by a budget deal that would jettison the military’s mandatory spending cuts as part of the so-called sequester and raise the cap on military spending by $25 billion for each of the next two years.

So good news all around, right? Well, maybe not.

Not if you’re a Florida retiree. Your part in freeing up more military spending for the multi-billion-dollar bomber project is to accept some modest cuts in Medicare and Social Security. And you probably won’t be around when, and if, this new bomber ever gets airborne.

Just look at the bomber it’s replacing, the B-2 stealth bomber, which was built by Northrop Grumman in the mid-1980s for an advertised price of $441 million per plane. We were supposed to get 132 of the B-2s, but ended up with 21 of them, due in part, to cost overruns that quickly made the price tag of each plane $2 billion.

The B-2 was conceived as a nuclear-capable bomber able to evade radar detection and destroy targets well inside the borders of distant countries.

It turned out to be a temperamental aircraft that couldn’t be left out in the rain, and each one required so much maintenance, 50 maintenance workers per plane, that at any given time more than half of the B-2s are grounded.

When they do fly, it costs $135,000 for every flight hour. And now it has come time to replace the under-used and over-priced B-2 with another stealth bomber also capable of bombing distant lands.

You’d think that our misadventures in the Middle East has made it abundantly clear that bombing people we don’t like in distant lands is a futile, and ultimately, harmful way to conduct foreign policy.

And we’re certainly not going to nuke China. (Who’s going to make our iPhone?)

The roll out of the new bomber sounds like a rerun of the B-2 sales pitch. We’re supposed to get 100 of the yet-to-be-named new bombers at a cost of $550 million per plane. But I wouldn’t count on it.

These defense contracts tend to start out as wishful thinking.

Take the F-35 fighter jet, a project that is $200 billion over budget and 15 years in the making. And yet, the jet it produced has been unable to outperform in mock dogfights the F-16 it is replacing, even with the F-35 pilots wearing high-tech $400,000 helmets.

The F-35’s got funded by spreading the subcontracting work to Florida and 45 other states. Legislators, more interested in creating jobs in their own districts, kept going along for the ride and demonstrating their fiscal conservatism in other areas.

Lockheed Martin hails the F-35 for creating 133,000 jobs both directly and indirectly, calling it “the single largest job generator in the Department of Defense program budget.”

But if you do the math, those 133,000 jobs for a $400 billion project comes out to about $3 million taxpayer dollars per job. That’s a tremendous opportunity cost for a glitchy new weapon that may not pan out.

And if we’ve got that kind of money to throw around, it makes it all the more obscene to consider squeezing Medicare recipients — half of whom live on $24,150 a year or less — or reducing Social Security benefits for the disabled.

Update: Ex-House Speaker Hastert pleads guilty to evading bank laws

FILE - In this June 9, 2015 file photo, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert departs the federal courthouse in Chicago. Hastert is accused in a grand jury indictment of agreeing to pay $3.5 million in hush money to keep someone silent about past misconduct against that person by the Illinois Republican. Before the May 28 indictment, Hastert was known primarily for rising from political obscurity in rural Illinois to second in the line of succession to the presidency. Hastert intends to change his plea to guilty in court Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Christian K. Lee, File)
FILE – In this June 9, 2015 file photo, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert departs the federal courthouse in Chicago.  (AP Photo/Christian K. Lee, File)

By MICHAEL TARM
The Associated Press

Dennis Hastert pleaded guilty Wednesday to evading banking laws in a hush-money scheme, averting a trial by agreeing to a deal with federal prosecutors that recommends the former House speaker serve no more than six months in prison.

Before accepting the plea, the 73-year-old Republican was warned by the judge that he could go beyond the deal’s recommendation and give Hastert up to five years behind bars when he is sentenced in February.

Because the plea has a sentencing range from no time to six months, Judge Thomas M. Durkin could also decide to put Hastert on probation or home confinement.

The hearing revealed no new details about why Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million to an unidentified person. The indictment says the payments were meant to conceal past misconduct by Hastert against that person but does not explain the nature of the wrongdoing.

The Associated Press and other media, citing anonymous sources, have reported that the payments were meant to hide claims of sexual misconduct from decades ago.

At the half-hour hearing in U.S. District Court in Chicago, a subdued Hastert read from a brief written statement that — like his indictment — focused narrowly on how he technically broke banking laws.

By pleading guilty, Hastert avoids a trial that could have divulged the embarrassing secrets he presumably wanted to keep under wraps by paying hush money. Judges are also generally more likely to give lighter sentences to defendants who accept responsibility for their actions and spare the government the cost of a trial.

In exchange for the plea, prosecutors were expected to drop a charge stemming from lying to the FBI.

When the judge asked Hastert to describe his wrongdoing in his own words, he read his statement, telling the court that he had been withdrawing cash $50,000 at a time. After banking officials questioned him, he said, he began taking out less than $10,000 to avoid reporting requirements.

Speaking in a halting voice and losing his place in the text at one point, he described why he lied to officials: “I didn’t want them to know how I intended to spend the money.”

Hastert did not say why he required so much cash or why he sought to skirt reporting requirements. As Hastert finished, the judge immediately asked: “Did you know that what you were doing was wrong?”

He responded, “Yes, sir.”

Since the plea deal offers a wide punishment range, February’s sentencing hearing could feature arguments from prosecutors on why Hastert should spend some time behind bars and from the defense about why he should be spared prison.

Asked by the judge if the government would call any witnesses at the sentencing, lead prosecutor Steven Block left open that possibility, saying, “We don’t know if we will be calling witnesses. We will decide that at a later date.”

Prosecutors could theoretically call the unnamed person Hastert was allegedly paying, a prospect that could make public the conduct Hastert sought to conceal.

The sentencing range is below what many legal experts thought Hastert could get. Many thought prosecutors would press for six months to two years in prison.

The change-of-plea hearing was the longtime GOP leader’s first court appearance since his arraignment in June, when he pleaded not guilty in the same courtroom in Chicago.

A May 28 indictment accused Hastert of handing as much as $100,000 in cash at a time to someone referred to only as “Individual A” to ensure past misconduct by Hastert against the person never became public.

The plea helped seal the downfall of a man who rose from obscurity in rural Illinois to the nation’s third-highest political office.

Hastert was speaker for eight years — longer than any other Republican. He also parlayed his connections into a lucrative lobbying career after leaving Congress in 2007. That career is almost certainly over.

As a convicted felon, “no congressman will want to meet with him about anything. His influence and power will be gone,” said Dick Simpson, a co-author of “Corrupt Illinois: Patronage, Cronyism, and Criminality.”

Known as a savvy deal maker in Congress, Hastert and his attorneys negotiated the plea deal in recent weeks, avoiding a trial that could have divulged embarrassing secrets dating back to his days as a high-school wrestling coach.

Hastert allegedly made 15 withdrawals of $50,000 from 2010 to 2012. It’s what he allegedly did later in 2012 that would make his actions criminal. After learning withdrawals over $10,000 are flagged, he supposedly began taking out smaller increments, eventually withdrawing $952,000 from 2012 to 2014.

The withdrawals stopped after FBI agents questioned Hastert on Dec. 8, 2014, according to the indictment.

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Associated Press Writer Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm .

Small donors dominate Ben Carson, Donald Trump contributor lists

Ben Carson has raised 62.7 percent of his $31.3 million from small donors; Donald Trump has raised 72 percent of his $3.9 million from people giving $200 or less.
Ben Carson has raised 62.7 percent of his $31.3 million from small donors; Donald Trump has raised 72 percent of his $3.9 million from people giving $200 or less.

Small checks can add up to big bucks.

The two poll-topping candidates who’ll occupy center stage in  Wednesday night’s third Republican presidential debate — part-time Palm Beacher Donald Trump and West Palm Beach resident Ben Carson — are also the candidates who have raised the largest share of their campaign cash from small donors.

Retired neurosurgeon Carson raised $31.3 million through Sept. 30 — with $19.6 million, or 63 percent, coming from people giving $200 or less.

Trump, despite his billionaire status and pledge to self-finance his campaign, has attracted $3.9 million in contributions, with $2.8 million of that — 72 percent — coming from people who gave $200 or less.

The contributions to Trump have been entirely unsolicited, his campaign says. First-time candidate Carson, however, has spent heavily on donor lists, direct mail appeals and phone solicitations to build his contributor base.

Of the $24.8 million Jeb Bush's campaign has raised, 5 percent has come from small donors.
Of the $24.8 million Jeb Bush’s campaign has raised, 5 percent has come from small donors.

By comparison, only 5 percent of the $24.8 million raised by Republican establishment favorite Jeb Bush has come from small contributors. And less than 1 percent of the $103 million raised by the Bush-backing Right To Rise super PAC through June 30 came from people who gave $200 or less.

The Federal Election Commission requires campaigns to list the name, address and occupation of people who give more than $200, whether it’s in a single check or multiple contributions. Money from people giving $200 or less can be lumped together as “unitemized” gifts on FEC reports.

Raising money in little pieces rather than fat checks can give populist credibility to a campaign. It also gives a candidate a list of supporters who can be hit up for more money before reaching the federal individual contribution limit of $2,700 for a primary and $2,700 for a general election.

Bernie Sanders has raised more than $30 million from people giving $200 or less.
Bernie Sanders has raised more than $30 million from people giving $200 or less.

Democrat Bernie Sanders has been the most prolific small-dollar candidate, raising $30.7 million — more than three-quarters of his contributions — in unitemized donations. Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton has raised $13.3 million from small donors, or 17 percent of her campaign’s $77 million haul. The pro-Clinton Priorities USA super PAC raised $15.7 million through June 30, with only $1,092 in unitemized gifts.

Small dollars aren’t necessarily cheap. Carson’s campaign incurred $11.2 million in fundraising costs last quarter to bring in $20.7 million – a burn rate that has raised some eyebrows.

“The fundraising is reflective of the campaign. The campaign is really a campaign of the people,” says Carson’s national finance chairman, Dean Parker, a former tech company CEO who has never worked on a political campaign before.

Parker said Carson had to spend heavily to raise money because he’s not a politician.

“We didn’t have a donor list when we started. We had to go and track donors. Every other campaign had donors,” said Parker, who expects Carson’s fundraising costs to go down.

Carson has placed second to Trump in most national GOP polls over the last two months, but he led Trump in a CBS News/New York Times survey released Tuesday. The poll showed Carson favored by 26 percent of Republican primary voters and Trump preferred by 22 percent.

“Carson’s gross (fundraising) numbers are impressive,” said Brian Ballard, a Tallahassee lobbyist who is a fundraiser for Bush. But Ballard also noted Carson’s high cost of attracting contributions. And he said big donors come in handy in the long haul.

“Having the institutional money matters in terms of being able to compete with Democrats,” Ballard said.

Trump, at a rally in Doral last week, mocked Bush’s fundraising.

“Jeb Bush has $125 million – honestly, I don’t think it’s going to help him,” Trump said while arguing that major contributors expect something in return from politicians.

“Hey look, I used to be one of those guys that gave a lot of money,” Trump said.

While decrying super PACs and challenging other candidates to disavow them, Trump boasted about the people giving small contributions to his campaign.

“People send in small donations. Like, small ones. A woman — $7.50 with about a four-page letter. Another woman $50, $30, $90…” Trump said.

“But that I love because, number one, you can’t send it back. How do you send a letter back to a woman who loves the country, who’s giving a lot of money – that’s like giving $1 million to a rich person. How do you send the $7.50 back? You can’t…There’s no letter you can write to that woman to say ‘We don’t want your money.’”

Shock poll: West Palm Beacher Ben Carson edges Palm Beacher Donald Trump

West Palm Beach resident Ben Carson before the first GOP debate in Cleveland in August.
West Palm Beach resident Ben Carson before the first GOP debate in Cleveland in August.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson of West Palm Beach has moved ahead of part-time Palm Beacher Donald Trump in a new CBS News/New York Times national poll of Republican primary voters.

Carson gets 26 percent and Trump 22 percent, with all other candidates in single digits. Sen. Marco Rubio is a distant third at 8 percent. The poll’s margin of error is 6 percent.

Only 28 percent of Republicans say their minds are made up for the presidential race, with 71 percent saying it’s too early to make a final decision on a candidate.

Trump, who made his first Florida campaign appearance Friday in Doral, has led every major national GOP poll for more than three months with the exception of one Investors Business Daily survey released Oct. 2 that showed Carson ahead.

Carson’s home in the Ibis development of West Palm Beach is about 20 miles from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach.