PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Jeb Bush fashions himself as a different kind of Republican. He talks about lifting the poor out of poverty and providing immigrants a pathway to citizenship. He preaches a more compassionate conservatism to win over Hispanics and African Americans. Mitt Romney he is not.

So it might seem rather incongruous backdrop for Bush to deliver his pitch for a 2016 presidential campaign at The Breakers, one of America's grandest hotels -- a lush and sprawling Italian-Renaissance palace on Palm Beach built a century ago by an oil baron which now, with rooms going for $1,900 or more per night, is an exclusive playground for 21st-century tycoons.

Yet that's just what Bush did on Thursday, though he did not choose the setting. He was invited to address a couple hundred wealthy conservative benefactors at the winter meeting of the Club for Growth, a group whose advocacy focuses on lowering taxes and shrinking government. Five other potential Republican presidential candidates will speak to the group on Friday and Saturday, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.).

On Thursday evening, Bush's pulpit was the ornate Mediterranean Ballroom, where decades ago Italian artists painted a magnificent ceiling fresco that evokes Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Here, as his guests nibbled on dessert and sipped coffee from fine china, Bush delivered his "right to rise" message of economic opportunity that has become the centerpiece of his burgeoning presidential campaign.

"How do we create a society of high sustained economic growth where more people can achieve earned success?" Bush asked. He went on to talk about education and fiscal reforms that he argued would create a better path for working Americans to pull themselves out of poverty.

In his remarks, Bush tried to assert his conservative credentials. He argued that he campaigned for governor of Florida as a conservative and, serving two terms in office, governed as one, too. He recalled signing a controversial executive order getting rid of affirmative action, a move that eliminated race as a factor in college admissions at state universities.

Referencing African American and Hispanic students, he said, "They don't need to have a lower standard to get into a university. They need to have higher achievement to be able to go to universities." The crowd applauded.

At a moment when income inequality is a driving issue in politics, presidential hopefuls in both parties have been and are likely to continue spending considerable time hobnobbing with the wealthy -- in part by necessity, considering how influential big donors have become under the new system of unlimited contributions to super PACs.

Many of the public appearances Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton has made in the two years since stepping down as secretary of state have been at black-tie soirees, where she collects awards for her public service, or at industry conventions, for which she typically is paid between $200,000 and $300,000 for each appearance.

But the optics could be particularly damaging for Republicans considering their struggle in recent presidential elections to convince voters they understand the plight of working- and middle-class voters.

Since announcing last December that he was seriously exploring a presidential campaign, Bush has tried to prove that he is no Romney -- that is, that he can display compassion and sensitivities for the poor and minorities to help the Republican Party expand its demographic appeal.

As the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, Romney struggled mightily in this area. He allowed President Obama to castigate him as a rich plutocrat who was hopelessly out of touch with the middle class. In an infamous secret video recording, Romney was seen dismissing "47 percent" of Americans as government moochers to a gathering of wealthy donors in Boca Raton, another tony beach community just 28 miles down the highway from here.

Yet here was Bush on Thursday, surrounded by emblems of wealth (the hotel driveway was packed with Teslas, Bentleys and other luxury cars) talking to rich people about the poor.

"I believe, and I hope you do too, that poor people aren't dumb," Bush said. "Poor people need to be empowered with good education. But once they're empowered, they can make choices for themselves and their families."