While it’s always perilous to write off a candidate with around $50 million left in his super-pac’s budget, the overall trajectory of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign has been so relentlessly downward that obituaries, or simply a habit of ignoring the onetime front-runner, have been common. Last week the big Jeb-land story was about who would get the blame for blowing all of that money (mostly super-pac head and longtime Jeb strategist Mike Murphy).
But in the chaos of New Hampshire you can see the first glimmer of a possible Jeb! comeback. A new poll from Emerson College has Bush leaping into second place. He’s at 18 percent, well behind Donald Trump’s 35 percent, but with a decent advantage over third-place John Kasich at 14 percent and with double Marco Rubio’s support level (he’s at 9 percent; Ted Cruz is at 8 percent, and Chris Christie is way back at 5 percent). There are some interesting internals in this survey — e.g., Trump leading Bush 44/9 among self-identified independents, who can vote in the primary. But it’s also worth noting this is a small-sample, high-margin-of-error (5 percent) poll from a meh firm (a C-plus rating from FiveThirtyEight).
And truth is, other candidates can point to fresh New Hampshire polls equally favorable to their cause. In other polls released in the last week, Cruz is second in three and Kasich in three others. Rubio’s in double digits in four. Who knows what’s really going on?
One thing we can say for sure is that the muddled state of affairs encourages each of the “Establishment lane” candidates to keep attacking each other rather than Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. And that in turn makes it difficult for any of them to get the kind of separation that would enable them to “winnow the field” and begin to move south, where the going will get tougher for Establishment candidates.
In the meantime, Team Bush has a sliver of renewed hope and still plenty of money to burn.