LAS VEGAS — Jeb Bush’s presidential ambitions embody a type of double misfortune found when every ounce of effort shows through — even to painfully uncomfortable degrees — but almost none of it pays off.
In textbook terms, Bush did just about everything right in Nevada. His campaign hit the ground early, set up field offices in every county, secured a laundry list of notable statewide endorsements and immediately adopted an inclusive tone to attract Nevada’s ethnically diverse electorate.
Despite all that, Bush is still coming in dead last.
Bush claimed support from less than 1 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers in the latest CNN/ORC poll out this week, coming behind lower-tiered candidates who have hardly even tried to make a play for Nevada.
In a state where polling data comes few and far between, Bush heads toward Tuesday’s caucus with bleak prospects in convincing supporters that he’s viable against clear alternatives, even despite the large amount of work and resources his campaign has poured into Nevada.
The Bush campaign brushed off the poll results on Wednesday and contested the dire outlook, saying their list of top statewide endorsements and engagement with both English- and Spanish-speaking voters gave them the “best ground operation in the state of Nevada.”
“One poll in a state that’s historically hard to survey will not change that,” Emily Benavides, a Bush spokesperson, said in a statement.
Bush supporters stress that surveys of likely caucus-goers are notoriously unreliable in gauging actual outcomes. Nevada is new to its “First in the West” early-state status, and they say that voters’ unfamiliarity with the process is likely reflected in the poll results.
Bush heads back to Nevada Sunday for a series of town hall events to make a final push for voters in major centers from Las Vegas and Reno. His long-game approach of outspending and outsmarting the rest of the GOP field meets its true test this week — first in the South Carolina primary on Saturday and then in Nevada’s caucus. He will have to stave off pressure to bow out and allow the party establishment to strategize in cutting short Donald Trump’s upward trajectory.
Trump holds a resounding lead in claiming 45 percent of likely Silver State caucus-goers, according to the CNN poll. But for Bush supporters, Trump’s near-certain win in Nevada next week is salt in the wound given that his campaign has put comparatively little time and resources into the state.
Trump, who owns hotel properties in Las Vegas, doesn’t plan to make an appearance in Nevada until the day of the caucus.
“Bush is the only one well-positioned to take on Trump,” Nevada Assembly Majority Leader Paul Anderson, who has endorsed Bush, told MSNBC. “There is a tremendous amount of ground support.”
Signs of silent desperation from the Bush campaign on the national front have made more of a splash in recent weeks than the substance of his policies.
Trump has reveled in shining a microscope on every one of Bush’s missteps or awkward gestures in a spat that has arguably devolved from being straight name-calling to outright schoolyard bullying.
Wednesday’s poll results were just new fodder for the real estate mogul, who needled Bush even more by tweeting: “Jeb Bush just got contact lenses and got rid of the glasses. He wants to look cool, but it's far too late. 1% in Nevada!”
Bush on Wednesday appeared visibly agitated with the idea that his fate had already be decided for him. But the hits kept on coming. He was out campaigning in South Carolina when he heard the news that the state's Republican governor, Nikki Haley, whom Bush himself said would be a consequential endorsement, instead chose to back Rubio.
For Bush supporters and volunteers working on the ground in Nevada, their success relies heavily on how well the former governor fares in South Carolina.
“I’m disappointed,” Bush volunteer Eddie Yarim said of the campaign’s lagging results. He had started with the Bush campaign by knocking on doors in Iowa and reaching out to the small, but growing, Latino community to sell the former governor’s compassionate approach on immigration.
“The best way to get back at Donald Trump is voting Republican for somebody like Jeb Bush,” he told MSNBC.
When Yarim moved to Nevada, that outreach, in theory, was supposed to be a lot easier. The state’s Republican governor was Latino, and Nevada has grown as a model of success for how the GOP can woo Latino voters with an inclusive approach that mirror’s Bush’s policies.
With the enthusiasm to match the design of the “Jeb!” button pinned to his shirt, Yarim spent more than an hour canvassing door to door in a largely diverse neighborhood in north Las Vegas.
First door, no answer. One likely voter was leaning toward Sens. Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. Another house, no answer. Another empty home. And another.
Yarim’s night ended with a door shut firmly in his face.
“We’re for Trump. We made up our minds a long time ago,” one resident said. “Jeb, he just don’t cut it. He’s a crybaby.”