The pickup of Romney’s New Hampshire campaign director, Jim Merrill, should be drawing more attention than it has. Merrill had been coveted by the Bush campaign, and Rubio picking him up shows that the junior senator from Florida is indeed committed to a presidential run and that Merrill, who knows the state best, thinks that Rubio can do well there. Much has been made of Rubio “not having a path” to the nomination with Jeb Bush being favored by the establishment and Scott Walker being favored by conservatives who want to win the general election too. (Conservatives who don’t care about defeating Hillary may be supporting an array of other candidates). Those who have said that Rubio does not have a path are pointing to a Florida poll last week showing Rubio in second (15%) behind Jeb Bush (31%). President Giuliani should know the importance of early Florida polling.
What may indeed be more important than the pickup of Merrill himself is that it signals that Rubio may be Romney’s guy: Romney’s comments upon bowing out were a slightly veiled shot at Bush, and were thought to be either a subtle endorsement of Walker or Rubio. Now it looks like it was Rubio, and we will see if he picks up other “Romney men.” The Koch brothers also like Rubio, who “won” their American Recovery Policy Forum against senators Cruz and Paul, and the combination of the Koch network and the Romney network getting behind Rubio would be huge, and could give him the money and staff he’d need to compete with Bush.
Rubio’s path to the nomination is becoming clearer with each Jeb Bush campaign appearance. I have nothing against Jeb Bush and think he’s a good guy and he was for the most part a good governor, but Jeb Bush doesn’t have a quarter of the charisma of his older brother, and is not well regarded by huge segments of the party; these are problems that W didn’t have in 2000. There is a good chance that the uncharismatic, sometimes politically clumsy Bush crashes and burns and that Rubio defeats him in New Hampshire, even if he doesn’t win the primary outright. If Jeb is effectively “out” before Florida -like President Giuliani- Rubio would be the clear favorite there go to win the nomination.
Another important break for Rubio is that foreign policy is playing a larger-and-larger role, it plays into Rubio’s strength. Expectations are high for Rubio in the debates, and I believe he will meet them, and outshine both Bush, Walker, Paul, and Christie.
Two other factors favoring Rubio that not many people have discussed:
1) Rubio and Walker may be the only two candidates who are not completely unpalatable to one large swarth of the party (Bush, Cruz, Christie, and Paul all have this problem).
2) Rubio, Perry, and Paul are the best looking candidates of the group and this does play a more important role than people would admit. Paul is less likeable than Rubio and Perry are though because he sometimes comes across as condescending.