Earlier this week, POLITICO ran “5 Reasons to Bet $5 on Marco Rubio” and tried to make the case for a path to the presidency for Florida’s talented junior senator.
Rubio has had very good showings in the first two debates — the same in which Jeb Bush had performed at what charitably might be called a workmanlike level. And Bush, the self-described tortoise in the race, has had to calm supporters amid falling poll numbers and some conversational gaffes on the stump. But Bush’s team has stuck to the plan of illuminating the conservative former Florida governor’s record in the early primary states, and Bush more than any other candidate has cherry-picked supporters and talented staff from the now-defunct Rick Perry and Scott Walker campaigns.
While Rubio is the beneficiary of press attention as the Summer of Trump winds to a close, Bush’s focus on the largely unheralded mechanics of a durable campaign – wooing opinion leaders, building voter files, working on ballot access, conducting effective retail politics in the small venues of Iowa and New Hampshire, touting Bush’s real accomplishments in solid TV ads in early primary states – may be beginning to have the intended effect. Like the nerdy protagonist Mark Watney in The Martian, Bush has decided that in order to win he’s going to have to “science the shit out of this thing” and, starting today, we might be seeing the first glimmers of the success of that approach.
On Sunday morning an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll was released revealing the results of a voter sample taken during the last week of September. While the perception among the chattering class is that Rubio has surged in the past few weeks, the poll numbers tell a different story. According to the poll, Bush increased his vote share in both New Hampshire and Iowa and has moved to third and fourth in those states, respectively. Bush finds himself lagging behind some of the “anger candidates” – Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson – but among those candidates who have held elected office, Bush is in the pole position. In both states he is ahead of U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and Rubio, and Govs. Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal and John Kasich.
Rubio and others will try to dismiss Bush’s superior position as a product of his recently launched TV ads in the early states, but Kasich proves that early TV doesn’t always translate into voter support. In fact, after spending $5 million in New Hampshire (more than any other candidate), Kasich has dropped from second to out of the top six. With his war chest depleted and currently relegated to being an asterisk in his firewall state of New Hampshire, one wonders when Kasich will run out of options and be forced to join his gubernatorial brethren Perry and Walker on the sidewalk of the presidential parade.
It’s too early to tell what will happen, and Rubio could continue to do well. But, with Bush, clearly rumors of his demise have been exaggerated, and as The New York Times underscored this week, Bush dominates the field in a number of predictive categories.
For fun I might consider betting $5 on Rubio, but to pay the mortgage I’d be betting on Bush.