As the Republican presidential candidates gather this weekend in New Hampshire, they’re all chasing a midwestern governor.
The latest survey of New Hampshire Republicans, by liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling, finds Wisconsin’s Scott Walker with a strong lead at 24 percent, followed by a rising Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Establishment favorite Jeb Bush is currently mired in fourth place, with 10 percent support, a drop from the last PPP poll of the first-in-the-nation primary state.
Other polls show the race remains tight. The RealClearPolitics average has Walker at 19 percent, followed by Bush at 15 percent and Sen. Rand Paul at 12 percent. That tracks closely with a REACH Communications survey also completed this month. In that poll, Walker leads at 22 percent, followed by Bush at 16 percent and Paul at 15 percent.
Still, Jeb Bush’s exploratory campaign may be answering a call no one has made.
For context, the last time PPP survey New Hampshire voters was in January of 2014. At the time, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie led the field, with Jeb Bush running second with 12 percent support.
Last year, Walker polled only 3 percent among New Hampshire voters. Cruz, who, at the time, had recently led a Senate fight about ObamaCare, received around 9 percent support. Both candidates have gained significant ground in the latest poll.
Walker, Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul are the only potential GOP candidates where a majority or more of Republican voters have a favorable impression. Walker, with 57 percent favorables and only 13 percent unfavorables has the best overall polling numbers of the field according to PPP.
Walker’s favorables among “very” and “somewhat” conservative voters are the highest of all candidates, followed closely by Cruz. Jeb Bush does best among “somewhat” liberal Republican voters. Chris Christie dominates polling among the “very” liberal GOP voters, a very small universe.
Walker and Paul do best among female Republican voters. Jeb Bush is a distant seventh among female voters in N.H., tied with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Among Tea Party Republicans, 32 percent support Walker and 25 percent support Cruz. The rest of the field trails these two badly.
With the exception of Chris Christie, who has the worst polling numbers among New Hampshire Republicans, Jeb Bush has the highest name recognition. Only 19 percent of Republicans in the state don’t have an opinion of Bush, while 30 percent of Granite State voters don’t know enough about Walker to form an opinion.
New Hampshire voters familiarity with Bush is not helping his standing in the polls. He occupies the middle of the pack in this state and the ideological middle in national polls.
A PPP survey last month found Bush the clear favorite of “moderate” and “somewhat” liberal Republican voters nationwide. His hopes for the nomination clearly rest on conservative candidates consuming each other, making Bush the last credible candidate standing.
Politicians, like generals, are often guilty of fighting the last war. In 2012, Mitt Romney eventually won the nomination after other, more conservative candidates flamed out. Bush is clearly hoping to replicate Romney’s primary campaign.
The conservative candidates this year, however, are quite different than those that contested the nomination in 2012. A conservative collapse in the primaries could easily become an unstoppable wave. The last time the DC GOP recruited a Bush to stop conservatives, Ronald Reagan won the White House.
Bush’s nomination represent the third consecutive cycle that the moderate, establishment wing of the party secured the nomination for its preferred candidate. The establishment game plan has spectacularly failed twice already.
The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing while expecting a different result. Giving the establishment the ball a third time would officially render the Republican party insane.