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On A Downward Spiral, Does Bush Have Money To Resurrect His Campaign?


OK, so we know Jeb Bush's family is supporting him, and he was the candidate favored by a lot of big-money GOP donors. But after the former Florida governor's weak showing in Iowa and his struggles in national polls, there are big questions about whether that money will stay behind Bush. Joining us now is Erick Erickson. He's founder of the conservative website The Resurgent. Erick Erickson, good morning.

ERICK ERICKSON: Good morning.

KELLY: So let's talk Jeb Bush. In the early part of this election cycle, the super PAC supporting him, Right to Rise, was far outpacing the groups supporting other Republican candidates. Why?

ERICKSON: Well, partly because of his name. Jeb Bush was the first candidate to declare that he wanted to run for president - was thinking about it in December of 2014 - and began immediately to go to Bush donors, who are very loyal, and sew up lots of money to keep it out of the field, largely on the calculation that Marco Rubio was thinking of getting into the race, and if he could get a large stockpile of money into a super PAC, that it would probably intimidate guys like Rubio from getting into the race. It didn't work.

KELLY: Right, so OK, so Bush starts with the family name, of course, with an early start. In Iowa, as you know, he came in sixth - just 2.8 percent of the vote. How do you think that will change his fundraising prospects?

ERICKSON: I think it's dwindling. In fact, I will tell you a donor to the Jeb Bush super PAC emailed me the night of the Iowa caucuses as the results were in. And all his email said was Rubio, Rubio, Rubio.

KELLY: So I'm guessing I know the answer to my next question, which is, who might benefit from Bush's stumble?

ERICKSON: Yeah, a lot of the donors are leaning towards Rubio, but they're very loyal to the Bush family. They've been long-time supporters of the Bush family. And as Jeb Bush's campaign has collapsed - and it doesn't look like it's going to be revitalized in New Hampshire - they're beginning to look at Rubio as the guy who can not just get the Republican party into the White House, but also stop guys like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.

KELLY: You mentioned Ted Cruz, and let's talk about him for a moment. He's coming off a win in Iowa, of course. Are we seeing donors open their wallets to his campaign?

ERICKSON: We're seeing the small-dollar donors open the wallets to Ted Cruz's campaign, which is actually a very good sign for him. He's got a lot of momentum with the small-dollar donors. He had some initial, very large-dollar donors. I'm told they gave lots of money but they don't necessarily want it spent in the super PACs until now. They're beginning to tell the super PACs, you can spend the money we've given you. Maybe a few more will come in. He's got one or two major millionaire billionaire super PAC donors, but a lot of them are more establishment oriented and looking towards a guy like Marco Rubio.

KELLY: When you say small donors are a good sign, why is that - because that just means in pure numbers more voters?

ERICKSON: Yeah, exactly. Donor equals voter, to a degree. And if you have a large number of small-dollar donors, you tend to do very well. Historically, the person with the most small-dollar donors wins. In 2000, that was George W. Bush in a very close election. In 2008, that was Barack Obama. In 2012, it was Barack Obama.

KELLY: OK, we have made it this far without mentioning Donald Trump. So let me say Donald Trump - he's saying he will spend more of his own considerable wealth in the days and weeks to come. How much are talking?

ERICKSON: Several million dollars, although the question is what is he going to spend it on. There have been several news reports that he's not willing to hire additional staff or more database research on voters. He's spent a lot of his money on caps and media appearances and private plane flights. He needs to spend on boots on the ground to go door-to-door to get voters to go to the polls and to identify the voters who are most likely to vote for him. The person who spends the most money, it used to be said, won. Well, Howard Dean did that in 2004 in Iowa and came in third, and Donald Trump, well, came in second this time. He's got to be able to spend the money on the tools and implementations to be able to get voters to go to the polls, not just to make a big flash in a state.

KELLY: Big picture - how do you measure, Erick Erickson, the impact of campaign contributions on the race? I mean, once the big check gets written, how long does it take to track and see if that's actually having any impact on polling or seeing actual votes coming in?

ERICKSON: It depends on how rapidly the campaign is able to respond to it. And in the bigger campaigns, Rubio and Cruz are actually able to turn on a dime a lot of the campaign dollars. Some of the other campaigns - for example, Ben Carson has raised a huge amount of money, but they've spent it all on direct mail operations. So it depends on what the underlying fundamentals of the campaign are.

KELLY: All right, Erick Erickson, thank you.

ERICKSON: Thank you.

KELLY: He's founder of the conservative website The Resurgent. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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