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What Lindsey Graham’s endorsement means for Jeb Bush

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Less than 12 hours after the seven leading Republican candidates left the debate stage in North Charleston, S.C., Thursday night, news broke that Sen. Lindsey O. Graham was endorsing Jeb Bush's presidential bid.

Upon hearing that news, I immediately whipped out out my handy-dandy Fix Endorsement Hierarchy chart to see where the Graham endorsement fit — and how much it might matter for Bush. [If you are not familiar with the Fix Endorsement hierarchy, (1) shame on you and (2) you can read up on it here.]

Here's a reenactment of me making the calculations using the Fix Endorsement Hierarchy.

The Graham endorsement fits neatly into the endorsement hierarchy as an "in-state statewide endorsement," the third-most valuable sort you can get.  (You can see the full endorsement hierarchy at the bottom of this post.)

Graham has three things that can help Bush.

The first is a statewide organization in a critical early voting state. Graham's Senate campaigns in 2002, 2008 and 2014 have been masterworks; to the extent he can offer up his knowledge of the state to Jeb that will aid the former Florida governor's cause.

The second is Graham's status as a hawk on foreign policy. The laying on of hands will convince some that Bush gets how to operate in a dangerous world.

The third is that Graham is a regular presence on the cable chat circuit. He's articulate, funny and smart. That makes him a valuable surrogate for Bush not only in South Carolina but nationally too.

That said, don't overestimate how much Graham's endorsement can help Bush. First off, endorsements tend to almost always be overstated. The idea that one politician can simply tell his followers to vote for this guy or gal is a little overstated. Second, as GOP strategist Bruce Haynes notes, the top-down politics that once governed the Palmetto State are no more.

And, finally, Graham just isn't all that popular at the moment in the state. A Winthrop University poll in December showed Graham's favorability at 53 percent among GOP voters — as compared to 76 percent for fellow Sen. Tim Scott and 81 percent for Gov. Nikki Haley. Graham's numbers among self-identified tea party supporters were even less robust: 47 percent favorable/47 percent unfavorable.

Bush needs all the help he can get at the moment.  And, Graham is a savvy pol, a talented spokesman with a real statewide organization. But, don't expect this to be a game-changer for Jeb.

The Fix Endorsement Hierarchy (ranked in order of influence)

* The Symbolic Endorsement: Former Florida governor Jeb Bush endorsing Mitt Romney for president.

* The National Endorsement: Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty for Romney.

* The In-State Statewide Endorsement: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist throwing his support to Sen. John McCain just before the Sunshine State presidential primary in 2008.

* The Celebrity Endorsement: Chuck Norris for former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in 2008, Oprah for Sen Barack Obama.

* The Newspaper Endorsement: The Washington Post endorsing state Sen. Creigh Deeds in the 2009 Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary.

* Out-of-State Statewide Endorsement: South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint endorsing former Florida state House speaker Marco Rubio in the 2010 Senate primary.

* The What Goes Around Comes Around Endorsement: Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani endorsing Rubio.

* The Obligatory Endorsement: George W. Bush endorsing McCain’s presidential bid in 2008.

* The “Me for Me” Endorsement: Former senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) endorsing Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak’s (D) 2010 Senate campaign.

* The Non-Endorsement Endorsement: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) passing on an endorsement of Sen. David Vitter’s (R) 2010 reelection bid.

* The Backfire Endorsement: Former vice president Al Gore endorsing former Vermont governor Howard Dean in the 2004 presidential race.

* The Pariah Endorsement: Jailed former congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham backing Newt Gingrich.

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