January 19, 2016
We’ve known a few things for a few months now. Marco Rubio is a leading GOP candidate. Maybe he’s not the favorite, but top tier, the best bet among the establishment-certified choices.
Jeb Bush is somewhere between a disappointment and a catastrophe. Seemingly never has so much money bought so little support from so few voters.
Rubio is an excellent debater, quick, facile, and able to defend himself. He’s able to attack opponents without seeming like a total jerk. After months of scrutiny, no dirt of any importance has stuck to him.
Bush has improved as a debater, but still isn’t good. He clearly has the knowledge, but not the ability to share it in a coherent manner. If you understand where he’s going, it doesn’t mean you’ll remember any of it 10 minutes later.
While basically scandal-free, he still has a giant gorilla-sized W on his back. Any attempt to run as his own man is compromised by his lack of proposals that significantly differ from his mainstream opponents.
Rubio is still one of the most liked candidates among GOP voters. First Ben Carson was most popular, now it’s arguably Ted Cruz. Through it all, Marco remains at or near the top, with at least 2:1 favorability at all times.
Nationally, with all voters, he’s about even according to Gallup, lightly positive with other pollsters, which puts him ahead of the other Republicans, well ahead of Hillary Clinton and only trailing Bernie Sanders by a thin margin.
Jeb is barely above water with the moderate Republican voters of New Hampshire. He has negative favorability with GOP voters nationwide and is even less popular with the wider electorate.
He shares Donald Trump’s negatives (pushing 60%), without his committed adherents. He does sometimes score a bit better in a pseudo-matchup with Hillary than Trump, but does worse than Cruz, who does worse than Rubio.
Rubio is consistently running third in Iowa, ahead of Bush and the other governors. Jeb is running third in New Hampshire. Among the governors. He’s sixth overall in the Real Clear Politics average.
Rubio has led him there in all but one recent poll over the past several months. Chris Christie has higher favorability ratings (and is narrowly ahead of him).
John Kasich, against all odds and his inability to effectively debate is now polling as high as 20% in New Hampshire. In the two most recent polls, he was 12 and 10 points ahead of Jeb. How does someone contend for a nomination if they can’t even stop Kasich?
So why am I wasting your time reading about how Rubio is better positioned than Jeb? Isn’t that self-evident? Check out these numbers:
The poll was taken for the Augusta Chronicle on January 15, the day after the GOP debate, one generally scored as better for Rubio than Bush (if also as Jeb’s best effort). Jeb got South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham’s endorsement on the same day.
Neither one have anything to brag about here, but no difference between the two. Interestingly, this Fox5 poll taken by Opinion Savvy on the evening of January 17 asked voters if they saw the most recent GOP debate. 63% of respondents said they did. Either watching a debate makes you disproportionately likely to pick up calls from a random number and answer a poll, or respondents are lying.
Only 11 million people watched the debate. Some of the viewers were Democrats, or Independents who don’t plan on voting in a Republican primary/caucus. Most of them don’t live in Georgia. Moral of the story: Don’t believe people are answering that question honestly.
Bush has amazingly bad favorability ratings in places like this. The most recent survey didn’t ask this, but trust me, it’s ugly. They did ask voters who they would choose if fewer candidates were available. When given the choice of Trump, Cruz, Carson, Rubio and Bush, Marco did finish ahead of Jeb 14 to 9, so apparently Kasich and Christie supporters like him a bit better.
Yet another recent poll, taken 1/17 for the Florida Times-Union. Jeb does better in their polls than others, and was close to Rubio in mid-December, but it’s still the first time he’s bested his younger rival since September.
Both candidates trail Trump by a ton and Cruz by some. Even combined, their total is less than The Donald’s. This isn’t a show of strength. It does show Jeb is no longer noticeably weaker than Marco in their homeland.
That’s the overall message here. Jeb isn’t suddenly popular in the Old Confederacy (yeah, I’m aware the southern 2/3 of Florida doesn’t count). Running in third/fourth place in the state you successfully governed for eight years isn’t impressive. Neither is doing the same in South Carolina where your dad and brother each took the lead in their nomination contests.
Bush is far stronger in those two states than Georgia. I may yet write a Jeb Comeback! story, but this isn’t it. Whenever crosstabs show respondents’ second choices, Bush almost always has less room to capture converts than his competitors. Favorability numbers make him look even worse.
Unlike a Carly Fiorina who isn’t registering real well but likely is the third or fourth choice of many, Jeb instead ranks highly as the candidate voters would never consider, challenging Trump on that measure, without his upside.
A couple weeks ago, you could make a case he had a little momentum in New Hampshire. Now you can’t. Jeb is still a zombie candidate. The problem for Rubio is he’s doing no better in these important three states than Jeb. We already know Bush is reluctant to quit the race. It’s not his nature and he still has some money left.
It’s likely Jeb thinks he’s a more qualified commander-in-chief than his onetime protégé. If Rubio finishes a distant third in Iowa (where he presently sits) and finishes fourth or lower in New Hampshire (very possible based on current numbers), why would Bush step aside for him?
As we mentioned last week, Graham would not have endorsed someone who wasn’t going to stay in the race at least another few weeks. This is very bad news for Rubio. With Trump and Cruz separating themselves from the field, rather than mainstream voters consolidating around Marco, they are seemingly fracturing further.
Kasich is surging in New Hampshire. Christie has solid nationwide favorability numbers. Rubio’s status as the leading mainstream candidate is more in doubt today than any time in the past several months. He’s hardly dead, and still has better odds than the individual governors, but the past couple weeks have not helped.
Assume nothing right now.