Just how important is Iowa to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush? Quite possibly, just as critical as it proved for Hillary Clinton in 2008.
Bush is heading to the Hawkeye State in order to begin organizing his ground campaign for purposes of competing in the 2016 Iowa Republican presidential nomination caucus. He???ll meet with party regulars and past supporters of both his father???s and brother???s successful Iowa efforts, though it???s clear he wants to pepper his organization with new blood.
Running ahead of his sizable number of Republican opponents on the fundraising trail, Bush is behind in the people aspect of campaigning. Virtually all of the soon-to-be-official Republican presidential candidates have already made several trips to Iowa for purposes of developing an internal state organization that has historically been so critical to performing well in the caucuses.
For only a few presidential candidates are the Iowa caucuses a defining event. But, Jeb Bush may well be one who finds a poor performance in this first-in-the-nation contest devastating. Hillary Clinton, who was commonly tabbed as the ???inevitable??? Democratic nominee before any votes were cast eight years ago, found Iowa to be her weakest state, and it led to her undoing.
The Iowa ???08 Democratic caucus results that propelled then-Senator Barack Obama to a first place finish and relegated Clinton to third behind then-Senator John Edwards (D-NC), began her national effort with a surprising defeat. This ended the former First Lady???s air of inevitability and charted a course that would culminate with Obama upsetting her for the party nomination.
Early next February, Bush may find himself in a similar position. Since the media typically casts the presidential son and brother as the early Republican front-runner, even though polling in Iowa and throughout the country doesn???t necessarily support such a declaration, expectations will be high. A loss or underperformance then becomes a major impediment against his campaign???s ability to move forward.
After Iowa, the campaign moves to New Hampshire, and the first primary. Historically, the Bush family has not fared too well here. After winning the 1980 Iowa Republican caucus, George H. W. Bush fell to Ronald Reagan in the Granite State vote by almost a 2:1 margin. In 1992, as sitting president, Bush only managed 53% in the New Hampshire Republican primary against conservative journalist Pat Buchanan. In 2000, Sen. John McCain defeated then Texas Gov. George W. Bush by more than 18 percentage points in the first-in-the-nation primary. In 2004, New Hampshire became the only state in the nation to support John Kerry for president after backing then-President Bush in the 2000 general election. Thus, the Bush family???s cumulative performance before the New Hampshire electorate is less than stellar.
The Nevada Caucus is next on the 2016 GOP nomination calendar. Again, the organization-based format will not likely play well for a Bush campaign that is dependent upon big money and heavy electronic advertising.
The fourth Republican vote comes in the Palmetto State of South Carolina. With its conservative voter history and Bush consciously moving to the center on such issues as immigration and education, he is again in a less than favorable position before this particular electorate.
Carrying these examples to their logical conclusion means four consecutive places where Bush fails to finish first. Can he sustain such a performance prior to getting to his home state of Florida, which is the largest of the few winner-take-all states on the Republican schedule? Obviously favored to win that particular primary, Bush will be in a position to capitalize in such a favorable venue, even if Florida Sen. Marco Rubio joins the field candidates. The question is, can he realistically make it that far? Maybe so, but his campaign effort will be seriously damaged.
As Rudy Giuliani showed in 2008, putting all political eggs in the Florida basket by ignoring the first four small states, didn???t work. The lack of momentum coming from these first four events can relegate a candidate to irrelevancy.
Recent history and the way his campaign is being structured suggest that Jeb Bush will have a difficult time jumpstarting his political machine, which may well bring the Bush political dynasty to an end.
Jim Ellis is a professional election analyst who has worked in national campaign politics and grassroots issue advocacy since 1978. He is the author of the Ellis Insight publication, which is a service of Weber Merritt Public Affairs.