MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — If you talked to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s (R) presidential campaign staff on Tuesday, you may have come away thinking Bush had all but won the New Hampshire primary.
That’s because Bush — who finished fourth in the primary behind Donald Trump, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) — said his showing in New Hampshire was strong enough to keep his campaign alive in what it says is a much more favourable state: South Carolina.
“You have given me the chance to go on to South Carolina,” Bush told an audience at his primary night party in New Hampshire on Tuesday. “We are going to do really well there.”
Where they saw a difficult map in Iowa and a crowded field of competitors in New Hampshire, Bush staffers say the former governor’s advantages in South Carolina could help him build on his gains in Tuesday’s primary.
As the results began to roll in on Tuesday night at Bush’s primary party in Manchester, Bush chief strategist David Kochel listed a number of advantages heading into the Palmetto State.
Those advantages included an endorsement from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), a military-heavy voter pool that Bush believes he can tap into, and a family name that’s still relatively popular in state.
“South Carolina is going to be important because it’s going to be the commander-in-chief primary there,” Kochel told Business Insider. “You’ve got 25% of the state [that] is military or veteran. We have the support of Lindsay Graham and we have a strong organisation. I think this race is going to narrow.”
Bush’s team clearly hopes that Rubio fades. Relatively low expectations helped Rubio claim victory after a surprisingly strong third-place finish in Iowa. But Rubio underperformed in Tuesday’s expectation game — party because of the campaign’s goal of finishing third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire, and first in South Carolina.
“The coronation of Marco Rubio appears to be in a stall,” Kochel said. “Their ‘three-two-one’ strategy doesn’t work quite as sure as it did when they were talking about it a week ago.”
Though Bush only did a little better than Rubio in New Hampshire, Kochel said Bush’s stronger finish refuted the pundit-fuelled perception that Republican establishment-minded voters were ready to coalesce around the Florida senator.
But Rubio wasn’t the Bush operation’s only establishment-oriented target in the GOP field.
Kochel said Kasich did not have the money or the campaign organisation to capitalise on his strong second-place finish New Hampshire. According to the last Federal Elections Committee fundraising report filed at the end of December, Kasich had around $2.5 million cash on hand compared to roughly $7.5 million for Bush.
Bush communications director Tim Miller told reporters he also believed that Kasich would have a rougher time in South Carolina than New Hampshire.
“We don’t think that John Kasich has a strong constituency there,” Miller said of South Carolina.
Bush evidently agrees. He said Wednesday morning on CNN that Kasich had no “tangible support” in the state:
Graham, who appeared briefly onstage at Bush’s party in Manchester, predicted that South Carolina’s military and veteran voters would prefer Bush’s appeal to expand the military over Kasich, whom Graham has accused of wanting to close military bases.
“The Bush family name runs long and deep in South Carolina: 41 and 43 are well respected, the Bush family has been generations of servants,” Graham told reporters on Tuesday, referring to former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. “That will matter in my state.”
On Monday, Kasich said Jeb Bush’s campaign spin was another example of critics underestimating him.
“Remember they said he wouldn’t get in, he wouldn’t have the money, he wouldn’t be able to make the debates, he’ll have to drop out before New Hampshire,” Kasich said. “Now it’s that he doesn’t have the infrastructure in South Carolina. Yes, I do. We will do well in South Carolina.”
But the Bush team isn’t wasting any time. According to the most recent public polls, many taken before Iowa and New Hampshire, Bush was last found trailing Trump, Cruz, and Rubio in South Carolina.
Last week, Bush’s formidable super PAC, Right to Rise USA, released an ad starring George W. Bush, who remains a popular figure among Republicans in state and is set to join his brother on the campaign trail in the state soon.
Set to dramatic instrumental music, the ad showed a montage of patriotic imagery, including US landmarks and military aircraft, as the former president extolled his brother’s executive record and approach to national-security issues.
“The first job of the president is to protect America. Our next president must be prepared to lead,” he said in the ad. “I know Jeb. I know he has a good heart, and a strong backbone.”
Jeb Bush also said Wednesday on CNN that his brother would campaign for him in South Carolina:
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