Bush, Rubio and Walker Run in Place

None has gained any real ground all year, but none has been damaged, either.

On a treadmill.

Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

For presidential candidates, the invisible primary is a Red Queen game: as the campaign goes on, they have to do more (fundraising, organization, securing endorsements) just to stay in place. The candidates I consider top tier -- Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker -- seem to be barely doing that. None has gained any real ground all year, but none has been damaged, either.

On the other hand, the other viable candidates all seem to me to be failing to keep up. None of those in my second tier (John Kasich, Mike Huckabee and the almost certain drop-out Mike Pence) and third tier (Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Chris Christie) has made any headway.

I  still view them all as viable. Anyone can get a sudden public opinion surge, and all seven of these apparent longshots could move into the ranks of at least somewhat plausible nominees if they pulled to the front in polling relatively soon. But I suspect I’m behind the curve on one or more of this group.

And I certainly don’t think any of the rest of the crowd has become any more viable. Sorry, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. 

Here’s a quick roundup of some of the other presidential campaign news this week:

• Jeb Bush, in the latest Iowa poll, stood at a dismal 5 percent. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza concludes that he should just skip the state. In comments to Politico, Iowa political insiders, unsurprisingly, disagreed.

The Iowa insiders have it right. You can’t skip Iowa.

• Politico’s Dylan Byers, working from a column by Larry Sabato and others, claims that “Clinton will start -- start -- with a minimum 247 of the 270 electoral votes she needs to win.”

Sorry, no. Past Electoral College maps don’t predict future election results; all they tell us is the shape of various levels of wins and losses. While it’s not a bad guess that the 2016 general election will be close, it’s still very possible that either party could win by 10 percentage points or more – and if that happens, the Electoral College map will adjust accordingly.

• And Ed Kilgore does a very nice job of taking apart a weak argument that Scott Walker is somehow in trouble because he may have peaked too soon. Early surges are helpful! After all, practically any candidate can spike up in the polls, but not all will, and those who don’t may wind up dropping out early. Imagine if Jindal, instead of Walker, had benefited from that early surge; we’d be speculating now about the chance of Walker dropping out.

Kilgore also has a nice caution about overinterpreting individual polls. Good point; there are going to be dozens of state and national polls over the next several months, and whatever their value (they have little), it’s always a bad idea to focus too much on small changes in any particular one. Always use polling averages, folks.

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