Hillary has had a good month.
She defied her doubters with a strong performance during the first Democratic primary debate, avoided a clash with Vice President Joe Biden who recently announced he will not run in 2016, and held up under over ten hours of partisan scrutiny during the Benghazi committee.
Bernie Sanders continues to undermine Clinton’s control of her left flank, but her campaign is looking stronger than it has for weeks. The pathway to the nomination is coming into view, and with some further strong debate performances demonstrating her authority over the issues, it is hard to envisage her not winning the Democratic nomination.
Ted Cruz might just pull off a coup in the Republican Party. His populist, aggressive brand of conservatism initially persuaded pundits that he was not a serious contender for the Republican nomination as it would alienate more moderate Republicans, but Cruz may benefit from the chaos of the primary season.
Donald Trump and Ben Carson continue to lead Republican polls, however there is a concern that when it comes closer to actually nominating a candidate, even hard-line grassroots conservatives will err away from the attraction of these political outsiders.
It is notable, then, that Trump has been so quiet when it comes to criticising Cruz, despite his swipes at virtually all other candidates. There is increasing suspicion of a tacit agreement between Trump and Cruz not to smear one another.
What does this mean? Well, come February, if Trump or Carson have dropped out, or if their deep conservative support fades, these voters will turn to Cruz as their alternative.
This is a dangerous situation: Cruz is unpalatable for most Americans, and his divisive rhetoric will split his party. Former President George W. Bush, who has decidely avoided the spotlight since he left office, made headlines recently when he voiced his dislike for Cruz at a fundraiser for his brother. He criticised no other candidate.
While Jeb Bush’s star has fallen, that of Marco Rubio has risen to the extent that Rubio is now many bookies’ favourite for the Republican nomination.
Rubio is an exciting candidate for the Republicans. He’s young, has a compelling personal story, and can broaden the appeal of the GOP to hispanics and moderates in battleground states. The Senator from Florida has seen his poll numbers surge after strong debate performances, and has largely managed to avoid the clawing attacks of Trump.
Rubio can build on this by securing endorsements from within his party, boosting his fundraising to compete with the heavy hitters, and continuing to perform well in debates. If there is a candidate that scares the Democrats in the general election in 2016, it’s Rubio.
The question is whether he can get past a conservative base of the Republican Party that is swooning over the Trump, Carson, Cruz triumvirate.
Five candidates stood on the stage at Las Vegas for the first Democratic primary debate, and a potential Biden-bid for presidency loomed over the event. Just under two weeks later, two of the five on the stage have dropped out, and Biden has announced he will not run.
The two drop-outs aren’t particularly surprising. Lincoln Chafee, former Governor of Rhode Island, never made waves in the Democratic race, and his quiet exit raises questions as to why he ran in the first place. Jim Webb, former Senator of Virginia, also pulled out of the race as he struggled to find any momentum in the polls and grumpily complained of limited air time during the Las Vegas debate.
Vice President Biden left his decision too late, and after Hillary’s strong performance in the debate, decided to forgo this last chance at the Oval Office. It would have been too difficult to mobilise the necessary funds and adequately differentiate himself from Clinton.
That leaves Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley. While Hillary’s poll numbers are at around 48%, and Sanders’ 26%, the former Governor of Maryland O’Malley has failed to drag his above 1%.
Before too long this is bound to be a two-horse race between Clinton and Sanders.
Jeb Bush clearly is not enjoying this campaign.
He struggled to carve out a memorable space during the two initial Republican debates and has visibly hated dealing with the whirlwind of anti-immigrant vitriol emanating from poll-leader Donald Trump.
Commentators assumed that at some point Jeb would surge towards the top of the polls, fuelled by a strong fundraising machine and name-recognition that is of added-value for much of the conservative base in America. This hasn’t happened.
Instead, Bush’s position in the Republican polls has been in decline since July, now ranking at 4th in many polls, behind Trump, Carson, and his Florida rival, Marco Rubio. To make matters worse, his campaign is being forced to tighten its belt after fundraising has failed to propel Jeb to number one.
It is getting late in the day for Jeb Bush. He needs now not only to rise above the outsiders, Trump and Carson, but also the serious rivals of Rubio and Cruz to reassume the mantle of ‘Establishment Candidate’. Once the favourite, Jeb’s path to the nomination looks far from certain.