Wobbly in the polls, what’s Jeb Bush’s comeback plan?

While a bunch of other Republicans have jumped into the 2016 presidential race, Jeb Bush is biding his time, raising a ton of money, working to appeal to GOP constituencies, and navigating nervousness about a Bush 'dynasty.'

Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush addresses the National Review Institute's 2015 Ideas Summit in Washington, April 30, 2015.

In the 2016 presidential race, former Florida governor Jeb Bush is generally seen as the favorite of establishment Republicans – which is not necessarily a good thing if you want to make it through the GOP’s primary and caucus season successfully.

There, more outspoken hopefuls hammer issues like immigration, foreign terrorism, the economy, and same-sex marriage with a heavier, tea partyish hammer. At the South Carolina Freedom Summit over the weekend, the rest of the pack – just about everybody but Mr. Bush – talked tough on defense and foreign affairs.

Bush, meanwhile, was in Lynchburg, Va., as the commencement speaker at Liberty University, which was founded by the late Southern Baptist pastor and televangelist Jerry Falwell – probably a smart move since evangelical Protestants and other Christian conservatives (Bush is a converted Roman Catholic) are a key segment of the Republican base. Bush slammed liberals and the Obama administration for being “small-minded and intolerant” when it comes to religious beliefs and practices.

At this point in the presidential contest, Bush is seeing mixed results in the polls.

He’s leading (with 15.5 percent) in the Real Clear Politics polling average, just ahead of Marco Rubio (14.3 percent) and Scott Walker (12.3 percent), the rest trailing off into oblivion.

But last week’s Quinnipiac University poll focused on the Iowa Republican Caucus had Bush way back.

“The first few months of the Iowa Republican caucus race show Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as the early leader. US Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, on the strength of an impressive candidacy roll out, has moved from the bottom of the pack into a tie for second,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll. “Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has yet to formalize his candidacy while he amasses what most expect to be a massive fund-raising lead, runs seventh with just 5 percent of the vote.”

A new Bloomberg poll has Bush sliding back in another key early state – New Hampshire.

“Rubio, who announced his candidacy April 13, more than doubled his level of [New Hampshire] primary support since the poll's last sample, in February,” writes Bloomberg’s John McCormick. “Bush, who isn't expected to formally announce until June, dropped five percentage points, his lowest level since the poll started tracking the state's voters in November.”

McCormick notes another problem: “Bush is relatively weak among independents. While drawing support from 15 percent of Republicans, he has the backing of just 6 percent of independents. That's a potential problem for Bush, especially if he runs poorly in the Iowa caucuses set for the week before New Hampshire's primary.”

One New Hampshire Republican voter raised another issue with Bush – his family’s political dynasty.

“I'd be happier if his last name wasn't Bush,” Fred McGarry told Bloomberg. “All the others are too far to the right for me and my guess is that some of them will play well in the strongly red states, but not get elected nationwide.”

Although he’s doing better in some polls (and is ahead by a bit in that Real Clear Politics polling average), “Bush is hardly out of the woods yet,” writes Aaron Blake at the Washington Post.

“Negative views of him still far outpace positive ones (including 36-23 in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll) and have done so in basically every poll we've seen,” notes Blake. “He'll need to turn that around.”

As others jump into the race in rapid succession, Bush is biding his time, raising a ton of money, and carefully navigating the possible Bush41-Bush43-Bush45 historical White House arc.

In a pre-taped Fox News interview Sunday, he acknowledged the intelligence failings that led his brother George W. Bush to order the US invasion of Iraq 12 years ago, but quickly added that former senator Hillary Rodham Clinton had voted to approve the invasion.

Meanwhile, as the political clock ticks toward those first presidential primaries and caucuses just a few months off, some Republican political pros are getting antsy.

“The early polls, which show Jeb getting clobbered in Iowa, barely ahead if at all in New Hampshire, and trading a narrow lead with his fellow Floridian Marco Rubio nationally, are predicting a ferociously competitive campaign,” writes Glenn Thrush at Politico.com.

“A month ago the whole story was that Hillary was rusty, that she hadn’t been out there doing anything,” one veteran GOP operative who worked on one of George W. Bush’s campaigns told Thrush. “Well, she’s been out there taking hits for a month. Jeb hasn’t. It’s time to get this thing going.”

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