DES MOINES, Iowa, Aug, 14, 2015 - Jeb Bush is attacking the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda, including its new Clean Water Act rule, as he struggles to find a message to shore up his lagging race in Iowa. 

The former Florida governor, who spent four hours at the Iowa State Fair on Friday, opened a speech by charging that the economy was being held back by the “most convoluted regulatory system.”

“I don’t need to tell Iowans about the EPA rules as it relates to water and now the rules as it relates to air that will stifle the ability of industry to be creative and agriculture to work, leading the world,” he said, speaking at The Des Moines Register Soapbox. 

Later, as he toured the grounds with Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, he answered a questioner who asked what needed to be done to improve the farm economy. Bush said, “First off, deregulate, get Washington off their backs, with water, in terms of environmental policy, EPA. It’s devastating, especially for small businesses.”

Bush has been unable to get much traction in Iowa so far. According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls he has the support of just 7 percent of Iowa Republicans, tying him with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and behind billionaire Donald Trump, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

The challenge for Bush in making roads on the regulatory issue is that the other 16 GOP candidates are saying pretty much the same thing, Northey told Agri-Pulse.

“Regulation is a really big deal” for Iowa agriculture, Northey said, “but it’s really hard to articulate and differentiate yourself.” One of the candidates who’s making an attempt to do so is Fiorina, who has talked at length about the avian flu outbreak and criticized the Agriculture Department’s handling of it, Northey said.

Some of the issues, most notably the Renewable Fuel Standard, also can put candidates on the spot between powerful GOP interests. 

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad brought up the RFS as he accompanied Bush to the Iowa Pork Producers Association pavilion, where they would grill up pork loins and burgers. As they walked, Branstad pressed Bush to support increases in the annual ethanol mandates. The Environmental Protection Agency has taken the stance that the mandates should be kept near the ethanol “blend wall,” the levels of ethanol that the market can use. The ethanol industry says the targets should be pushed up, to force gasoline retailers to sell higher blends of the biofuel. 

“When you’re in business you have to have some certainty that you know what your production is,” Bush said. But he wouldn’t commit to support a higher RFS. 

“Let me be president first and I’ll let you know that,” he replied, when Agri-Pulse pressed him for an answer as he stood at the grill.

He went on, “Over time, the biofuels industry here is being increasingly competitive, just as wind is. Ultimately, you move away from mandates, because it will have huge benefits. That was the original idea and it seems to be working.”

Bush said he hoped to reverse as many of the administration’s environmental rules as he can. He said water regulation should be left to the states, a welcome message in Iowa, where the water rule, which re-defines the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS), is unpopular with farmers and the Des Moines water system is suing several counties, seeking to force the imposition of pollution limits on farm tile lines under the authority of the Clean Water Act. 

“There’s a proper role for the federal government, but this administration has gotten hyperactive in pushing down, expanding dramatically the definition of what federal waters are,” Bush said of the WOTUS rule. “Nobody has ever come close to this definition.”

Bush’s immigration position also troubles some Republicans, and several fairgoers pressed him on his position. Bush favors providing illegal immigrants with a path to legal status, but he emphasized the need for stronger border enforcement and the use of the E-Verify system for checking the immigration status of job applicants. 

Beyond the regulatory issue, Bush’s larger message is that he is the conservative who can work across party lines to get things done, a point he made after he stopped for a beer and was questioned by a supporter, Barb Wine of Lake Panorama, Iowa, about Trump, who is supported by 19 percent of Iowa Republicans, according to the RealClearPolitics average. 

“I have a proven record, conservative. I listen. I learned how to lead in a public setting. I don’t assume that it’s my way or the highway. There’s a big difference,” Bush said. “I want to broaden out our message to win a larger number of people.”

Wine, who was wearing a Bush T-shirt, said Trump appeals to many Iowans because they see him as “very honest in his dealings and what he says.”

Trump and the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, were both expected at the fair on Saturday, along with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

Read other coverage of candidates at the Iowa State Fair:

Huckabee defends biofuels, digs at Clinton

O'Malley pledges to fight mergers, Webb backs Keystone as Democrats stump Iowa