Jeb Bush could be making his last stand today in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary, as party insiders say the former Florida governor needs to finish third or better to press on in the race for the nomination.
Bush has embraced his family this week in South Carolina, where the name is popular, a drastic shift from the start of the campaign that reflects his attempt to gain traction. Another back-of-the-pack finish for Bush after his sixth-place showing in Iowa and a fourth in New Hampshire could spell disaster.
Bush — polling at 12 percent, behind Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — led in early polls and held the party’s establishment lane that he’s now fighting over.
“Jeb’s future starts and ends with Marco Rubio,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “If Rubio ends up pulling off a Houdini act and finishes second, the calls for (Bush) to drop out will be louder than a heavy metal concert.”
The GOP wants to narrow the field of candidates to pull support from Trump, O’Connell said, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s endorsement of Rubio this week signals Bush might not make the cut.
“That was a sign within the party’s mainstream that (Bush) doesn’t give it the best shot to win the nomination,” he said.