Jeb Bush is entering a critical phase of his Republican presidential campaign

September 28, 2015 5:53 pm

 Jeb Bush speaks during a Long Island Association luncheon. Photo / Getty.

Jeb Bush is entering a critical phase of his Republican
presidential campaign, with top donors warning that the former Florida
Governor needs to demonstrate growth in the polls over the next month or
face serious defections among supporters.
The warnings,
expressed by numerous senior Republican fundraisers in recent days, come
as Bush and an allied super PAC are in the early stages of an
aggressive television ad campaign that they believe will help erase
doubts about his viability.
But Bush continues to battle against a
steady decline in the polls, sinking to fifth place at just 7 per cent
in a national NBC /Wall Street Journal poll released yesterday and
similarly languishing in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
The
warnings from top donors come as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s exit
from the race refocused the battle within the party’s establishment
wing as one between Bush and his former protege, Senator Marco Rubio.
Right now, the momentum appears to be behind Rubio, who has jumped ahead
of Bush in most polls.

At least a third of the bundlers who signed up to raise
money for Walker have switched their allegiance to Rubio, while a
smaller number have gone with Bush, according to people familiar with
the discussions.
Bush is also facing fresh scrutiny for comments
that critics say bear echoes of remarks Mitt Romney made during his 2012
presidential bid, part of a pattern of awkward statements that have
forced him or his campaign to clarify.
Campaigning in South
Carolina last week, he said that Democrats too often win over black
voters by telling them “we’ll take care of you with free stuff”. Romney
made similar comments during his 2012 bid and Democrats said that Bush’s
remarks were part of a pattern of Republicans insulting minority
voters.
His comments could undercut what Bush allies argue would
be his great strength in a general election contest: A cultural fluency
that would give him crossover appeal to a diverse electorate.
Party
strategists said that Bush must find a way to recharge his campaign
with a compelling message about his conservative governing record as
Governor of Florida.
“People assume that they know who Jeb Bush is,
and that’s part of the struggle the Bush campaign has,” said Republican
strategist Henry Barbour.
“I think if people get to know Jeb and
they give him a chance, he’s going to be tough to beat,” Barbour added.
“But they don’t know him yet. And you’ve got a right wing of the party
that is almost determined not to get to know him. They want to believe
that because they disagree with him on a couple issues that he’s not
their guy.”
Appearing on Fox News, Bush played down the
importance of his standing in current polls. “These polls really don’t
matter,” he said. “They don’t filter out the people that aren’t going to
vote, it’s just – I know it’s an obsession because it kind of frames
the debate for people for that week.”
As the son and brother of
former presidents, Bush is a member of the Republican’s establishment
wing, which has suffered setbacks in recent days. House Speaker John
Boehner – who publicly encouraged Bush to enter the race – announced
plans to resign after dozens of conservative legislators threatened to
oust him. And Walker’s sudden departure from the presidential race came
as support shifted to outsider candidates.
Given those developments, Bush “needs to get his favourables up,” said a senior Republican bundler who is backing him.
“People
are looking at the stage and saying: ‘Jeb and Marco? I’m going with the
new,’ ” said a top party fundraiser not aligned with a campaign.
“You’re seeing people really gravitate to him and saying, ‘Okay, we’ll
buck the Bush machine.'”
“What I hear everywhere when you say
Jeb’s name is, ‘If you want to lose the general election, nominate Jeb,”
the fundraiser added.
But those within the Bush camp say they
are not yet alarmed over the dynamics of the race, confident that their
financial war chest will enable him to outlast opponents, according to
campaign strategists and top Republicans familiar with internal
discussions. In private conversations, however, Bush advisers betray
signs of anxiety about Rubio’s rise.
“They are prepared for a
long, grinding fight and being the last person standing,” the Republican
fundraiser said. “But they are concerned about the trends and they are
concerned about Marco.”
Rubio has jumped ahead of Bush in recent
polls of Republicans in New Hampshire and Florida – two states critical
to Bush’s campaign strategy. In New Hampshire, a CNN/WMUR poll released
last week gave Donald Trump a commanding 26 per cent lead. Rubio was
third with 9 per cent and Bush tied with Ohio Governor John Kasich for
fifth place, with 7 per cent. A Florida Atlantic University poll
released last week gave Trump 31.5 per cent among Sunshine State voters.
Rubio 19.2 per cent and Bush 11.3 per cent.
Bush maintains a
huge financial advantage over Rubio – he had roughly $120 million
between his campaign and an allied super PAC at the end of June.

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