Jeb Bush struggles for Alabama delegates

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As news circulated throughout both the conservative and mainstream press that Jeb Bush failed to secure a full slate of delegates ahead of the Alabama primary in March, the question has emerged: does Bush have an “Alabama problem”?

The conservative Weekly Standard sure seemed to think so.

Their Michael Warren wrote Bush’s inability to fill commitments for all 47 of Alabama’s open delegates who will be awarded to the winner of the state’s primary amounted to “a sign the former Florida governor may be lagging in organization and enthusiasm in the Yellowhammer State.”

Alabama political consultant Brent Buchanan was more severe still in an interview with Bloomberg Politics.

“You can buy all the people you want, but it doesn’t make voters vote for you,” said Buchanan in an interview. “He’s just not connecting with people like his brother did. He’s a policy wonk, and that’s great for a governor. But it doesn’t always translate to the presidential race.”

Bloomberg leveled a criticism at the Bush campaign that had lingered in Tallahassee, Miami and other Bush strongholds, but which has now reached the national stage, calling it “a top-heavy campaign with plenty of endorsements that’s still waiting for the candidate to turn on the ignition.”

The more measured election watchers at the blog Frontloading HQ, on the other hand, were less apt to ring the alarm bells.

Of those 47 spots, Bush has 32 delegate candidates covering 29 vacancies. That is short of the more than full slates that candidates like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio had filing in support of them.

Looks bad, right?

It is. If a campaign touts its strength in filing a full slate of delegate candidates in Tennessee — as the Bush campaign has done and others have reported — then it says something that the campaign has missed the mark further south in Alabama. It says something about organization in an area of the country — SEC primary territory — where Bush has spent some time this fall. It says something more that, compared to the other candidates, Bush ranks sixth in terms of the number of Alabama delegate candidates that filed pledges to the former Florida governor.

And yet –

There are, however, a couple of matters that have gone unsaid and/or underreported in this story. One is that the above it just one comparison. The second is that the process in Alabama — the rules — are being overlooked. Both factors when not considered help to overstate the extent of the problem for Bush in Alabama…

…look back four years and you will see that all four candidates who made the Alabama presidential primary ballot — [Newt] Gingrich, [Ron] Paul, [Mitt] Romney and [Rick] Santorumall had gaps in the delegate slates that appeared on the ballot next to their names. And yes, that is more an excuse from the Bush perspective than anything else. 2016 is not 2012. However, if FHQ had asked you before the Alabama filing deadline — so absent this revelation about delegate slates there — whether Bush would get more or less than 12 delegates (of 47 total), I suspect most would have taken the under given the crowded field of candidates.

Alabama is a small state and its field of GOP consultants and activists who make up the RNC delegate-type crowd is even smaller.

The final verdict: Jeb’s campaign for Alabama’s 50 delegates isn’t looking great at this juncture, but neither were the campaigns of many Republican pols who have ultimately gone on to carry the state.

How the new “SEC primary,” the candidate winnowing process sure to begin this winter, and other 2016-specific factors will play into the recent news of Bush’s missing delegates remains to be seen.

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