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Presidential Horse Race 2016: How Jeb Bush’s endorsement of Ted Cruz could be a good thing…really.

If you’d said a year ago that Jeb Bush would be endorsing Ted Cruz for president this week, most people would have laughed you out of the building.

But yes, it’s true. Bush threw the full family name and party establishment weight behind Cruz on Wednesday.

Steph Solis and David Jackson of USA Today report, “Ted Cruz picked up a couple of prominent endorsements Wednesday, one from former Republican opponent Jeb Bush and another from the anti-tax group Club for Jeb BushGrowth.”

Bush’s stated reasons for the endorsement mostly concerned Cruz’s promising electoral prospects, but that’s okay. Bush said Cruz has shown the ability to bring voters together for primary victories and argued it was this ability to unify that would allow Ted to prevail over Hillary Clinton in November.

Along with praise for Cruz, Bush labeled Trump as “vulgar.”

As far as the other key endorsement, Solis and Jackson report, “Club for Growth President David McIntosh, making his organization's first-ever presidential endorsement, described Cruz as ‘the best free-market, pro-growth, limited-government candidate in the presidential race.’”

There’s no doubt there, but I wonder why it took the Club for Growth so long to figure it out.

Where Jeb is concerned, many conservatives are probably cringing at the thought of Cruz being tied to the Bush family. But before you look for the nearest ledge to jump off, consider the positive advantages involved with Jeb’s backing.

Perhaps the biggest benefit is it’s a sure sign the establishment is coming to conservatives this year rather than the other way around. In the recent past it’s been conservatives who were forced to swallow Mitt Romney and John McCain as the party heads.

No more. Now it’s the establishment’s turn to kneel and kiss the ring. Not only are they getting behind Cruz, they’re passionately arguing that he’s electable. So much for the old establishment adage that conservatives can’t win elections because they aren’t marketable to the modern American electorate. We always knew it was false – and now they’re being forced to admit it.

Bush’s nod also means the establishment attack machine won’t be aimed at Ted. That’s huge.

Another potentially valuable benefit to Cruz is the party machinery will be behind him in many states now. Bush is friendly with many of the Republican governors, so they’ll be able to get state parties working in Ted’s favor. This can make a big difference in states that are competitive.

Lastly, Bush’s endorsement brings with it a certain amount of financial heft. By siding with Cruz over Trump, it’s a signal to his donors that everyone’s all-in to defeat Trump. I don’t think Ted’s going to have to worry about fundraising anymore.

For those worried about Cruz being tainted by the establishment, don’t be. Cruz will always be the same guy. He may compromise at times to accommodate the elites on some things but he won't give up the ship. In that sense, he’d be just like Ronald Reagan.

I doubt Bush’s backing will make much of a difference at the ballot box one way or another, but on balance, it’s a good thing for Ted to have Jeb in his corner.

Does a contested convention favor Ted Cruz?

As we head deeper into the calendar in the 2016 Republican presidential race, it’s becoming a distinct possibility that neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz will have won the 1237 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination before the party convention.

Therefore, we’re hearing an awful lot about a “contested convention.” With Trump likely to be in the delegate lead going into Cleveland, you might think he’d have the advantage there.

Not necessarily so. Eliana Johnson of National Review writes on the benefits of being an elected Republican. “[I]f the race comes down to a fight on the convention floor, it’s almost certain to become clear that there are, in fact, benefits to being a party insider, relatively speaking. And it may be the richest irony in a cycle full of them that Cruz, whose feud with the party establishment is the stuff of legend, finds himself in the best position to reap those benefits if he can hold off Trump until July.”

Hence another use for Bush’s endorsement. By being the candidate favored by the establishment, many of the convention delegates are partial to you.

Johnson explains how each individual state determines the rules for electing delegates and those people sent to the national convention are typically establishment favoring. Arizona was given as an example. Based on Tuesday’s results, all 58 of the state’s delegates are pledged to Trump on the first ballot, but after that they’re “unbound” and can vote for whomever they want.

Both the Cruz and Trump campaigns are actively at work seeking to make sure their supporters are elected as delegates. Cruz is given a bit of an advantage here, but even then, it basically comes down to whomever the establishment favors when the time comes.

It’s looking more and more like that candidate is Ted Cruz. And yes, it is ironic.

All of this depends, of course, on the establishment honoring commitments to Cruz when the time comes. If they try to sneak in one of their own – or back Kasich – then all bets are off. Conservatives would revolt like nothing before.

So there’s ample reason to keep fighting all the way to the convention. Conservatives just might get their way this year after all.

With two weeks to go until the next primary, time to reenergize

There’s a tangible sigh of relief in political circles today as the Republican presidential contenders finally get a little time to catch their breath and reenergize for the second, albeit slower, phase of the race.

Meanwhile, analysts are hard at work crunching the numbers to determine who needs what to stay on target. Behind the scenes there’s a huge lobbying effort for every last delegate and the cable channels are going to have to scrape to come up with something to talk about for a little while.

It’s almost like the first week of the two-week lull between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl in the NFL.

Byron York of the Washington Examiner expands on that idea. “For the first time since voting began, there will be a two-week gap between Tuesday's votes, in Arizona and Utah, and the next contest in Wisconsin on April 5. (And Wisconsin will be the only primary that day.) After that, there will be another two-week gap before the New York primary on April 19 -- again, the only primary of the day.

“It's now easy to see the results of the Republican National Committee's decision to dramatically compress the early primary schedule in 2016. Compared to today's lineup -- 30-plus in those first 51 days -- in 2012, there were only ten contests in the first 56 days of voting.”

York adds that Wisconsin is a winner-take-all, open primary state with very little polling to serve as a guide – and the anti-Trump people are vowing to contest it vigorously. If John Kasich is still in the race, and it appears he will be, the contest looks to be a tight one.

Neighboring states aren’t necessarily an indicator, but Minnesota chose Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz over Trump on Super Tuesday; Michigan chose Trump a week later, but with only 36.5 percent of the vote to Cruz, Kasich and Rubio’s combined 59 percent); Iowa of course chose Ted Cruz over the full field, and Illinois chose Trump (again, with 39 percent to Cruz, Kasich and Rubio’s 59 percent) last week.

So here’s guessing Wisconsin will be fairly competitive. Assuming Kasich doesn’t steal too many conservative votes, Cruz looks to have a real solid chance to win there.

It should be noted Rubio took 14 percent in Arizona on Tuesday because the state had been early voting for four weeks prior to Election Day. In the end, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but I think in the future, states must give serious consideration to ending early voting – at least in primaries.

We’re clearly entering an entirely new phase in the Republican race with the field narrowed to essentially two credible candidates and a calendar that stretches out over two and a half months.

The first phase served its purpose, clearing away the weaker and regional candidates (again, except John Kasich who is only competitive in the upper Midwest and northeast) and rewarding those with nationally proficient campaigns and fundraising operations…and/or superior name recognition in the case of Trump.

York adds that California, New Jersey and a few other states wrap up the voting on June 7.

I can’t help but think the race will shift back to more of a pre-Iowa/New Hampshire strategy where the campaigns are able to micro-target prospects with an emphasis on turning out the most likely voters. Endorsements from key state leaders will be important here as the candidates seek to take advantage of organization that’s already in place.

Are you listening, Scott Walker? Walker won three heavily contested elections within four years and probably knows where every single Republican voter resides. That’s gold.

(Note: Here’s a poll showing Trump and Cruz neck-and-neck in Wisconsin.)

Since Wisconsin is winner-take-all, Cruz realistically needs a win there. With Tuesday turning out to be a one-to-one tie, he’ll need a standalone win to keep it going heading into New York and the remaining states on the calendar.

Trump will likely stick to being Trump. Thus far, it’s a strategy that’s worked just fine for him.

New national poll shows Trump being crushed by Hillary Clinton. Uh-oh.

Finally today, I haven’t felt the need to report a whole lot on national polls, finding them largely irrelevant during the earliest stages of a campaign.

But with Donald Trump’s enthusiasm for citing such polls as a reason to choose him, it’s probably about time to start paying attention to them – especially hypothetical matchup polls, which are early potential warning signals for viability down the road.

In this arena, Trump is fairing badly against Hillary Clinton.

Jonathan Easley of The Hill reports, “According to a Bloomberg Politics poll released Wednesday, Clinton leads Trump 54 percent to 36 percent in a contest between the two front-runners.

“Also troubling for Trump – nationally, only 29 percent of likely general election voters have a favorable view of him, compared to 68 percent who view him negatively.”

The poll also shows Ted Cruz trailing Hillary by nine points – that’s half the Trump deficit. Cruz is also viewed less negatively overall, though he’s significantly underwater there as well.

The intense negative public impressions of the Republican candidates are likely due to the nasty daily back-and-forth in the campaign. The media isn’t going to paint them in a positive light – and most people don’t really pay close enough attention to separate the garbage from reality.

They just see Republicans digging at each other – constantly.

It should be noted John Kasich beats Clinton in the poll and is viewed positively. Once again, another indicator people aren’t really paying attention. It’s fine to like the guy no one’s talking about and has ZERO chance to end up the nominee.

I bet everyone would love Joe Biden too…but he won’t be on the ballot in November, just like Kasich (unless he’s a VP candidate).

Again, take these types of polls with a grain of salt. They probably shouldn’t be completely dismissed, but there’s an awful long way to go until November. And Hillary’s got a basket full of problems of her own to deal with.

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