Jeb Bush formally announced his candidacy for president on Monday.
I do not see a clear frontrunner in the GOP field. But Jeb is without a doubt among a small pack of co-favorites that also includes Scott Walker and Marco Rubio.
Jeb informally signaled his candidacy about six months ago but has refrained from making a formal announcement in order to maximize his fundraising activity through his “Right to Rise” Political Action Committee (PAC). Under current campaign finance law, PACs are far less constrained than official campaigns in raising money through large donations but they cannot coordinate with declared candidates and/or campaigns once a candidate officially declares. So Jeb worked through his PAC for as long as he could and in doing so has amassed a campaign war chest that will likely dwarf that of his opponents. His financial superiority coupled with his support among the establishment wing of the Republican Party and his family’s experience in running national campaigns translate into significant advantages over his opponents. His greatest advantage will likely be his ability to compete in every state through aggressive advertising and a ground game—almost every other candidate will need to be more selective about where and how they compete.
Jeb’s greatest liability is his lack of resonance with the GOP base. There are some parallels with Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign and a replay of some of the 2012 primary dynamics is certainly possible. But while Romney arguably gave into the temptation to pander to Tea Party sentiments, Jeb appears content to stand firm on his two positions that have most riled the base: support for common core education standards and immigration reform. As such he will never be embraced by the base (and the majority of GOP primary voters) and he likely has a lower ceiling of potential support than most of his competitors.
So how will this all play out?
Jeb’s best chance for an early victory is New Hampshire. He currently leads in the polls (yes, it’s a long way off) and his candidacy probably resonates there as well as anywhere else. A New Hampshire victory will keep him among the front runners through Super Tuesday on March 1. There are dozen GOP primaries scheduled for Super Tuesday, including Texas. This is where Jeb’s financial superiority kicks in. With the possible exception of Texas, he doesn’t need to win anywhere in particular, but he needs to rack up as many top three finishes as he can. Importantly, the early GOP primaries will allocate delegates proportionately, so strong showings that fall short of victories can still be helpful.
D Day for Jeb Bush comes two weeks later on March 15 in the Florida primary. It’s the earliest date that GOP primary rules allow for winner-take-all contests, and Florida has opted to do just that. Marco Rubio will likely provide the stiffest competition. If Jeb fails to win Florida, his candidacy will likely be mortally wounded. If he prevails, his chances will likely hinge on whether the Republican base is rallying around a consensus alternative or if it remains split among multiple alternatives. The more the latter rings true the higher the probability Jeb Bush secures the Republican nomination for president.
Frank Alcock is an associate professor of political science at New College of Florida, one of the nation’s premiere public liberal arts colleges. He appears regularly as a political analyst with ABC News in Sarasota and speaks on a range of political and public policy topics.