Many Republicans and supporters of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are getting nervous as the New Hampshire primary approaches on Feb. 9.
It comes down to this, they say, he must do better than Sen. Marco Rubio, his former mentee and fellow Floridian, in the next major presidential contest, or just pack up and drop out of the race, according to The New York Times.
Bush finished in a dismal sixth place in Iowa, which held its caucus on Monday. Bush, who was seen as the likely presumptive GOP nominee by many when he first launched his presidential campaign, got just 2.8 percent of the caucus vote.
Rubio surprised many by coming in at a strong third, with 23 percent of the vote, only one percentage point behind Donald Trump.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was the winner with 28 percent.
“If Rubio beats him badly in New Hampshire, Jeb is toast,” the Times quoted Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, as saying.
Graham is a Bush supporter.
Graham said Bush is in a situation where he must “tie Rubio or beat him” in New Hampshire.
Republican Party leaders have already been jittery about this election cycle, when the top-performing GOP candidates – Cruz and Trump – are proudly anti-GOP establishment.
Some party leaders are giving Rubio a serious look as their establishment candidate, given his strong Iowa finish, charisma, ability to work across the aisle in Congress and impressive debate performances.
Bush dismisses the notion that the GOP and his supporters are worried about his prospects, and wondering whether he’ll be a contender after New Hampshire.
“Oh, I’m continuing on,” he said, according to the Times. “I’m continuing on, yeah.”
To be sure, the others – namely governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio – seeking to be the establishment GOP alternative to Cruz and Trump are looking to New Hampshire to breathe new life into their campaigns.
Neither candidate has the hefty war chest of $7.6 million that Bush campaign does, however. And Bush’s “super PAC” has nearly $60 million.
Bush’s coffers also is making the GOP uneasy. If he does not drop out if he has a poor showing in New Hampshire, he likely will step up attacks on his biggest rival, Rubio, which could benefit Cruz and Trump, the Times noted.
“If Jeb doesn’t do well there, and he’s still got millions and millions to spend, does he stay around?” the Times quoted Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, a Rubio supporter, as saying. “Who knows.”
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