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In Bush country, confidence in Jeb is ebbing



Jeb Bush is mired in the single digits in polls of Republican voters nationally and in all-important Iowa and New Hampshire. And he is fourth (behind Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio) among likely Republican primary voters in Florida, of all places.

Struggling against strong anti-establishment headwinds, the former Florida governor's campaign is pressing the re-set button, cutting expenses dramatically. Now pundits and even longtime admirers and supporters have started to speculate about the candidate once seen as the overwhelming favorite for the Republican nomination quitting before voting even begins.

"When Jeb drops out, the question is whether he backs Marco for the nomination or whether he's too ticked off at Marco for running in the first place," said former Pinellas Republican Chairman Tony DiMatteo, a Trump supporter who questions whether it's too late for Bush to turn things around. "The voters don't want the establishment. I think they're going to clean house."

Bush faces an important test Wednesday, as CNBC hosts a televised debate. These events have not been his strong suit, but most of the political pros who know Bush best remain bullish for his long-term prospects.

"You can always take Jeb to the prom. He's a solid date. But in the meantime, let's do a little flirting, let's be crazy," said Tallahassee lobbyist and Republican strategist J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich, likening his party's current enthusiasm for the likes of Trump and Carson to his daughter dating a "bad boy" during her youth.

Eventually, that should end and a traditional candidate such as Bush, Rubio or even Ted Cruz will prevail.

"If you stepped back and weren't looking for the Bush face-plant, you would conclude his chances to win the nomination remain as good or better as anyone's. Mostly he has to endure," said Stipanovich, who helped lead Bush's first campaign for governor in 1994. "This is a test by fire, and I think the fire will fade."

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