Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush waits to be introduced at the Republican Jewish Coalition at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Dec. 3, 2015. 
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty

Polling woes up the ante for Jeb Bush as debate nears

A new national CNN poll pegging former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 3% support and Donald Trump at 36% with potential GOP primary voters underscores the rising pressure on Bush to find his moment soon.

The tension could be felt Thursday in Washington as nearly the entire GOP field addressed the Republican Jewish Coalition, whose members include various party donors who perfectly fit the profile of a mainstream Bush supporter. 

When the RJC met in April for a similar showcase in Las Vegas, Bush was dominating the money race in the campaign and was often the default front-runner in polls as well. Eight months and one surprise run by a certain billionaire later, the mood was different.  

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“The decline of Jeb Bush has been the most singular change,” Ari Fleischer, former press secretary to President George W. Bush, told MSNBC as RJC members filed in for the event. “My hunch is if this race continues on the trajectory it is [on], a huge number of RJC members are going to be up for grabs and looking for a second choice candidate.”  

In the press, Bush donors have expressed concern about his position. “We know that Gov. Bush is the adult in the room and the one with a proven record, but unfortunately the country doesn’t seem to care,” billionaire Mike Fernandez, who has given millions to pro-Bush super PAC Right to Rise, told The Wall Street Journal this week. 

Within the campaign, the expectation is that his base of donors will remain loyal to Bush given their deep ties rather than moving elsewhere before votes are cast.

The campaign will get another chance to boost its standing at the debates on Dec. 15 at CNN’s gathering in Las Vegas. Bush has struggled so far at these high-profile candidate face-offs, especially at October’s CNBC debate where Sen. Marco Rubio deftly parried away an attack over missed votes.

Beyond that, the campaign is focusing more and more on the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary, where there’s a crowded field looking to consolidate the mainstream anti-Trump vote that includes not just Bush and Rubio, but Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as well. The Bush campaign announced it was adding full time staff and opening four new offices in New Hampshire this week. No candidate has emerged as an obvious second place contender to Trump so far.

Bush still is counting on outside help from super PAC Right To Rise, which has unmatched resources compared to rival efforts. The group recently announced it would produce and buy ad time for a 15-minute documentary detailing Bush’s biography.