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Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is canceling reserved advertising time in Iowa and South Carolina, the latest reminder of his struggles to connect with voters -- and a sign of possible fundraising troubles.
The decision will keep Bush from paying for roughly $3 million of reserved TV time in January -- a little more than $1 million in Iowa just under $2 million in South Carolina. Instead, Bush plans to redeploy roughly 50 staffers to the four states that hold the first contests next year.
The campaign acknowledged that its announcement came on Wednesday because it was the final day before payment was due for the January air time. But the first hint of impending reassignments appeared in an email sent to staffers just before Christmas. When you come back from the holidays, the message said, make sure to pack gloves and warm clothes.
Some staffers will be leaving desk jobs at campaign headquarters in Miami while others already working in southern and Midwestern states to collect ballot signatures will move on to a new field assignment, senior aides said.
Staffing in New Hampshire -- the state most critical to Bush's early chances -- will double to 40. Senior aides said that Bush's total staff in the Granite State will dwarf the combined staffs of his main rivals there, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The talking point couldn't be independently verified.
In Iowa, the Bush team will grow to about 20, aides said. Staffing in South Carolina and Nevada will climb to about 10. No pay cuts are planned as part of the changes.
In addition to the staff influx, roughly 200 volunteers are also preparing to deploy into the early states. The first wave of volunteers -- many of whom have ties to the presidencies of Bush's father and brother or worked for him as Florida governor -- will be canvassing in New Hampshire and South Carolina beginning on Jan. 8, aides said on Wednesday.
The Bush camp also said it plans to increase its advertising on conservative talk radio stations in South Carolina, a cheaper, lower-profile and less effective way to reach GOP base voters.
News of the decision was first reported by the Des Moines Register.
The moves, announced during the holiday week, will be greeted by the rest of the GOP field and people who carefully track campaign advertising budgets as yet another desperate attempt to revive Bush's campaign, which began the year in a commanding financial and polling position but has gradually sputtered ever since.
But Bush has something that most of his other rivals lack: A well-financed super PAC.
Right to Rise USA, the super PAC Bush launched before starting his campaign, raised more than $100 million this year. The group has already spent more than half of its war chest with little to show for it: Bush has continued a months-long slide in the polls. But the group said Wednesday that it still plans to spend tens of millions of dollars in the early states in the coming weeks.
"Right to Rise USA has more than $3.6M reserved in IA between now and Caucus Day," the super PAC's spokesman Paul Lindsey tweeted Wednesday afternoon. "Will add more in the coming days."
Lindsay said in subsequent tweets that the PAC plans to spend $4.2 million in South Carolina and more than $10 million in New Hampshire on television, radio and digital advertising, plus direct mail pieces.
In Iowa and South Carolina, the PAC is airing a new ad attacking Rubio's Senate attendance record. In New Hampshire, the group is airing an ad that contrasts Bush's eight years as Florida governor against the records of Christie and Kasich.
The decision to divert the money comes at the end of a fundraising quarter when Bush was devoting less time to raising money and more time on the campaign trail in hopes of boosting his sagging poll numbers. Whether the campaign even had $3 million to spend on television advertising is unknown -- senior aides declined to say how well he did in the final three months of the year. But one aide said Bush remained "competitive" with other top rivals.
On Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who is leading polls in Iowa, announced that he had raised more than $19 million for the quarter.
Bush joined a regularly scheduled conference call with his top campaign "bundlers" on Wednesday afternoon and thanked them for another successful fundraising period, according to two participants who asked for anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the exchange. Campaign manager Danny Diaz and other aides told the group that they have scheduled another big-dollar fundraiser for Jan. 18 in New York.
While Bush has excelled at raising money from well-heeled supporters who can give the maximum $2,700 individual donation, he has struggled mightily to raise money from smaller donors who can give $200 or less -- the kind of low-dollar sums that help fuel a campaign over the long haul. Emails sent to supporters this week from Bush's brother, former president George W. Bush, and the candidate's son, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, asked for last-minute donations of as low as $1.
"No other fundraising deadline will be as scrutinized as this one," George P. Bush said in his message to supporters. "The media, the pundits, Hillary Clinton and the rest of the pack -- they’ll be scrutinizing every detail of this report because it’s our last chance to show that we have what it takes to win before voting begins."
Bush campaigned Wednesday in South Carolina, a state where his campaign believes he could grab more momentum now that Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) has dropped out of the race. Nearly two dozen of the senator's most prominent supporters and donors are now backing Bush, though the former governor is currently polling in the low single digits in the Palmetto State.
Troubles like the ones exposed on Wednesday have struck the Bush campaign before. In October, the campaign slashed its payroll, laid off some staffers and redeployed dozens of personnel across the country to work on voter outreach and ballot access. Bush and his team conceded at the time that changes were being made because of the rise of front-runner Donald Trump and in hopes of avoiding the sudden financial collapse like the one that ended Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's presidential campaign.
Over the summer, as Bush formally launched his campaign and the fundraising prowess of Right to Rise was first realized, many supporters and outside observers speculated that ultimately the PAC would devote most of its resources to advertising while the campaign focused on candidate travel and voter outreach. Both camps strongly disputed that would happen.
But Wednesday's news signals that Bush decided he has no choice now but to do just that.
Philip Rucker contributed to this report.