Rubio takes lead in the endorsement sweepstakes

I wrote here about the endorsement sweepstakes in the GOP nomination battle. I relied on FiveThirtyEight’s endorsement scorecard, which awards 10 points for endorsements by governors, 5 points for endorsements by U.S. senators, and 1 point for endorsements by U.S. representatives.

At the time of my post, January 25, Jeb Bush was in the lead with 51 points. He was followed by Marco Rubio (43), Chris Christie (26), Mike Huckabee (26), John Kasich (20), Ted Cruz (17), and Rand Paul (15).

Now, a week-and-a-half later, we have a new leader — Marco Rubio. The Florida Senator has jumped from 43 to 59 points. Bush remains stuck on 51. Christie and Kasich are also stuck on their previous numbers. Huckabee and Paul have dropped out.

Rubio picked up endorsements from two Senators — Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania) and Tim Scott (South Carolina). Scott’s endorsement is particularly timely since the South Carolina primary will soon be upon us. How much it matters is another question. Endorsements still count, but they aren’t considered as important as they used to be.

Rubio also gained endorsements from six congressmen. They are Steve Womack and Rick Crawford (both of Arkansas), Lyn Westmoreland (Georgia), Glenn Thompson (Pennsylvania), Matt Salmon (Arizona), and Robert Pittenger (North Carolina).

Rubio’s unexpectedly good showing in Iowa almost surely helped him secure most of these endorsements. All but Scott’s came after the caucuses had been decided.

However, the caucuses didn’t much help the winner, Ted Cruz, in the endorsement sweepstakes. He has picked up only one endorsement since Monday — from Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina. Cruz does have important endorsements from some religious leaders. (For his part, Donald Trump has endorsements from a few ex-office holders, as well as from Jerry Falwell’s son, but none from any currently serving Senator, Congressman, or Governor).

Cruz supporters might argue that Rubio’s endorsements demonstrate that the “establishment” is rallying around the Florida man. Maybe. The concept of the “establishment” is thrown around so loosely that I no longer have a clear idea who is in it. Is Pat Toomey? Is Tim Scott?

Matt Salmon is a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus. Is he now in the establishment?

Ted Cruz remains without the endorsement of a single U.S. Senator. There must be a few GOP Senators other than Cruz who aren’t part of the establishment.

Keep in mind, however, that of the 796 endorsement points potentially available under FiveThirtyEight’s system, only 223 (28 percent) have been awarded. The party’s top elected officials are still holding back, by and large.