At this point, trying to discern who is winning the (mostly invisible) Republican presidential contest is like reading tea leaves. But some clues this weekend suggest that Marco Rubio is in position to take a solid lead.
First, let’s start with what his competitors are saying. Lindsey Graham (ok, not really a competitor, but also running right now) told Katie Couric, “Marco Rubio will be President of the United States someday. I don’t know if it will be in 2016.” I don’t think Graham’s sideways endorsement will make a difference. But it may reflect his expectation that Rubio has a great shot of being the nominee now (and so it’s worth making nice with him now).
Meanwhile, Scott Walker is openly speculating about a Walker-Rubio ticket, perhaps even agreed to before the Iowa Caucus. As which place each candidate would take: “We’d just probably have to arm-wrestle over who would be at the top of the ticket.” Of course, this isn’t going to happen. But it’s again (perhaps) an indication of Rubio’s growing strength (only indirectly visible at this point).
Mitt Romney also pitched in this weekend, saying of Rubio, “There was a point during his remarks where I felt something in my heart.” Especially if you speak Mormon, that’s a powerful statement, perhaps laying the groundwork for more and for a shift from Bush to Rubio. Unlike Graham, Romney’s support (even if merely tacit) could boost Rubio past the other reading candidates.
Finally, some context for all of this: Having moved up steadily in the polls since January, Rubio has recently taken the lead in the HuffPost Pollster rolling average. While tomorrow’s news cycle could put someone else on top, the steadiness of Rubio’s climb may indicate that it’s built on real support (not just name recognition). And while “momentum” isn’t a real thing in politics, gains that stem from real success on the campaign trail can have some staying power. If that’s what Rubio is amassing, he could soon be solidifying his status as the front runner.
As a bonus, let me point out that this may be exactly the break John Kasich needs. Bush and Walker are both key obstacles to his campaign since they share similar profiles.If those two start slipping and their supporters cast around for an alternative – other than Rubio – Kasich would seem their next likely alternative. Although, from what I’ve seen, Rubio seems to be about everyone’s second choice, so their may not be much trickle down for Kasich to pick up. Still, I’d say this is his best time to make a move.