Conventional wisdom would have you believe that Jeb Bush is dead in the water. He has fallen from leader to single digits in the polls. He has no big money advantage. He’s not connecting with voters. Well, he is not the front-runner, to be certain, but consider the following:
1. His main challengers in New Hampshire — Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — have $2.6 million and $1.4 million cash on hand respectively, and as of now in the national RealClearPolitics average are below the 2.5 percent threshold for the next debate. If Kasich and Christie don’t make it to New Hampshire or lose in New Hampshire, Bush then occupies the entire “moderate” sector of the GOP while numerous other candidates carve up the right wing.
2. If you take out the general-election money that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) raised, Bush has more cash on hand ($10.3 million to $9.7 million) than Rubio.
3. Bush does have more money on his side than anyone in the GOP primary. It’s in his super PAC, which announced on Thursday a $17 million ad buy in early states, something no one else has come close to doing. It has socked away $56 million in advertising money, including a $17 million buy for states with March primaries. (“Right to Rise plans to spend $2.6 million in Georgia, $1.7 million in Tennessee, $6.1 million in Texas, $550,000 in Oklahoma, $630,000 in Massachusetts, $60,000 in Vermont and $3.1 million in Vermont. The new round of ads also includes $2.1 million in ads in Michigan, which holds its primary on March 8.”)
4. Bush satisfied many conservatives with solid tax reform and health-care plans. Those, plus his Florida record, should be sufficient to win over not tea party types, but rather, mainstream conservatives.
5. While not nearly the best of the bunch, Bush’s performance in the second debate showed significant improvement over his first outing.
I’m not saying Bush is the favorite at this point. He does, however, have a viable path to the nomination beginning in New Hampshire. It’s a mistake to write him off or to assume he’s lost his one advantage (money). In many ways, Bush right now is where Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was in 2008 — but with $100 million in a super PAC. In 2008, McCain’s campaign blew its money, and McCain, with lowered expectations, survived Iowa and went to New Hampshire to win over voters with his ubiquitous town hall appearances. In other words, this game plan has been carried out before by someone with even fewer resources than Bush has.
Rubio, whom many suggest is the favorite, appeals to many segments of the party, has had terrific debate performances and also has rolled out a series of creative policies. He and Bush, however, remain deadlocked in New Hampshire. Bush won’t just disappear on his own. Rubio will need to beat Bush, the earlier the better. If not, he’ll face trench warfare against Bush and his super PAC’s millions.