How will Jeb do tomorrow? (and why it matters)

New Hampshire voters will answer several potentially consequential questions tomorrow: How badly will Sanders beat Clinton; what will Trump’s margin of victory be; what price (if any) will Rubio pay for repetition in debating?

For me, though, the biggest question is: How well will Jeb Bush do? Here’s why.

There has been much speculation about the degree of winnowing the Republican field will undergo after New Hampshire. In particular, how many of the three governors — Bush, Kasich, and Christie — will drop out?

In the short term, however, I’m not sure it matters much whether Kasich and Christie hang in there. Kasich, whom I expect will do well tomorrow, almost certainly won’t be a factor in South Carolina or the upcoming “SEC primaries.” These venues or too conservative for Kasich. Nor is he likely to raise a whole lot of money even off of, say, a second place/18 percent showing in New Hampshire. Donors understand that New Hampshire is unusually favorable turf for the Ohio man.

Christie, whom I expect to do poorly, won’t be a factor in South Carolina or the SEC either. And he won’t be able to raise much money off of, say, a fifth place/8 percent showing (to be generous, I think, about his prospects).

Bush is a different story. Many in the establishment donor class would, I suspect, love to find new reason to give him more money. They are extremely comfortable with the ex-Florida governor.

Moreover, I can conceive of Bush drawing plenty of votes in South Carolina and/or Florida if he does well enough in New Hampshire plausibly to pronounce himself the comeback kid.

What does “well enough” mean? Given the low expectations that have come to be associated with Jeb’s campaign, fourth place with 12 to 14 percent of the vote might be good enough. Anything better almost certainly would be.

Will Bush accomplish this? The folks at FiveThirtyEight forecast that he might very well.

The latest polls are conflicting. For example, Emerson has Bush in second place with 16 percent, but CNN/WMUR, using a smaller sample, puts Bush in sixth with only 7 percent.

For what it’s worth, I suspect that Emerson is closer to the mark as to the percentages, though the RCP average (which includes five additional polls) more or less splits the difference.

In the CNN/WMUR scenario, Bush is probably finished. In the Emerson scenario, he’s the comeback kid and probably will siphon off a goodly number of anti-Trump voters going forward for a while.

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