The veneer of friendship between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio is beginning to peel. Bush has started taking swipes at his former protégé, who has emerged as a serious threat to his presidential aspirations as a fellow establishment candidate who appeals to the same pool of donors seeking to keep the likes of Donald Trump and Ben Carson off the November 2016 ballot.
But there's another reason the recent Bush-Rubio skirmishes are likely to become a protracted, all-out war. And it all comes down to their home state, Florida. Winning the Sunshine State primary will be critical for either Rubio or Bush to lock up the Republican presidential nomination. That's why the worst recent news for the Bush campaign was probably not a Pew Research poll putting Bush at just 4 percent nationally, but a poll released a week earlier, which, for the first time, showed him trailing Rubio in Florida.
"I absolutely think [Florida] is going to be make or break for both Jeb and Marco," says Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. "Between Bush and Rubio, this is where the rubber meets the road."
"Unless Super Tuesday goes all to one candidate…I see it as dragging exactly to March 15, because that's when we start our winner-take-all," O'Connell predicts. "March 15: That's when we really start separating the contenders from the pretenders."