Senator Marco Rubio has gone from April’s flavor of the month in the Republican primary field to being the seasonal blend of choice. At the same time many in the national punditry seem to be writing off Governor Jeb Bush’s chances to secure the GOP nomination. A set of swing-state polls released by Quinnipiac University this past week (below) showed Rubio polling marginally better than Bush against Hillary Clinton in two swing states including Florida. But writing off Bush based on what we have seen in Florida is unwise.
Rubio’s lasting strength has surprised some including myself. But the way he’s begun his campaign for the Presidency and the different appeal he brings to the electorate when compared to some other GOP candidates makes him an attractive proposition for a party whose leaders desperately want to change its image. The campaign has been smartly run while Senator Rubio have avoided the type of mockable statements that have dogged just about every other viable GOP contender.
By contrast Jeb Bush is being written off in some quarters. As the heir to a troubled family throne in a party that has turned strongly against the “legacy” of George W. Bush’s Presidency, the former Governor seems to have much of the deck stacked against him. But Bush has been doubted before and every time he’s come back stronger than ever.
Throughout 2001 and early 2002, thanks to the controversial 2000 election and other factors, Florida Democrats were confident of knocking off Bush. Many Republicans as well were nervous about the election, especially considering at the time no Republican Governor had ever been reelected in the state. But Bush ended up winning the election by the largest margin ever for a Republican – the high water mark of conservatism in the modern era of Florida politics.
Similarly, Bush was thought of as incapable of ever running for President given how unpopular his brother was when he left the White House. But now almost seven years into President Obama’s tenure, George W. Bush’s image is somewhat rehabilitated with the American public (but perhaps importantly for Bush NOT with the Republican establishment) Jeb Bush might be able to overcome what many see as his biggest handicap – Bush fatigue and a resistance to dynastic politics.
Rubio remains untested in a long-haul election where he is considered a favorite or near-favorite. By comparison, Bush has been through three of those, winning twice and barely losing the other time to an incumbent. While early polling and punditry might indicate a shift from Bush towards Rubio, color me skeptical and cautious until the autumn at the earliest. Until then, even while others discuss Bush’s troubles I will see him as a formidable force, and perhaps the GOP’s best bet both in Florida and nationally.