The presidential campaign of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has pulled out all stops in South Carolina. It’s been a family affair with the matriarch, Barbara Bush, hitting the trail and former President George W. Bush coming out of retirement to stump for his brother.
That has Bush supporters, like South Florida Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, saying calls for him to exit the race are premature.
“As of now we’ve had a lot of hoopla, and I get that, but we’ve only had two votes, and what I think you’ve seen is that all of the major candidates are clearly alive and well,” Diaz-Balart says of the two completed nomination contests, in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Florida’s junior senator, Marco Rubio, has been rising in recent polls of Republican voters and he became the envy of his opponents this week by nabbing the endorsement of South Carlonia’s popular governor, Nikki Haley.
Pundits are predicting Rubio will now steal the show, but Diaz-Balart says don’t trust them.
“The reality is that as of now most of the polls and most of the pundits have been wrong, and I’m going to include myself in there – I’ve been wrong a lot as well. The people who go out to the polls are the ones who are going to decide this, as it should be,” says Diaz-Balart.
Rubio has the endorsement of only one Florida congressman: Tom Rooney of central Florida. He says calls for Bush to drop out are premature.
"Let’s see what happens in South Carolina and then I think that you’ll see pragmatism kind of come to the top,” Rooney says.
While Florida voters don’t get to weigh in on the nomination until March 15, neither native son is winning in the polls. Both Rubio and Bush consistently trail reality star and real estate mogul Donald Trump. Rooney says Rubio and Bush are stealing votes from each other.
"Certainly if there was only one of them they might be able to vie to compete against Trump, but right now after only two contests neither of them is willing to concede that it’s them that should be the one bowing out,” Rooney says.
But the conventional wisdom doesn’t apply to this year’s election, according to Geoffrey Skelley who monitors elections for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. He says he can picture scenarios where either Bush or Rubio supporters migrate to a non-native son.
“Some people do consider Trump their second choice, so as people drop out he’s going to gain some , it’s just kind of a question of how much,” Skelley says.
At least one South Florida Republican is vowing to never support Trump: Congressman Carlos Curbelo.
“I will not support him. I cannot look at my two little girls in the eye and tell them that I’m supporting someone of that nature to lead this country. Someone who has disrespected not just the American people, but also our founders,” Curbelo says.
Curbelo’s list of reasons for opposing Trump is long.
“Someone who is obviously very limited in terms of knowledge as to how the world functions, how our government functions, what the constitution allows and doesn’t allow. So I will not support Donald Trump and I think Republican primary voters would be wise to reject him,” Curbelo says. Curbelo is firmly behind Bush in part because he says he’s such a stark contrast from the bombastic Trump. But he says Saturday will be pivotal for Florida’s former governor. “All that talk about him considering getting out, there’s no place for that until we see the result of the South Carolina primary,” Curbelo says.
"Jeb is in it to win it,” says Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. She says she’s in no rush to see the crowed Republican primary field winnow down at all.
“We’ve got some real experienced folks left,” Ros-Lehtinen says.
“May they battle it out until the convention,” which is scheduled for July in Cleveland.