Has the fire started?

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Rubio Finally Gets His Endorsement Bump

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania is expected to announce his support for Marco Rubio. With endorsements from South Carolina Senator Tim Scott on Monday and from two House members on Tuesday, Rubio will finally – finally! – overtake Jeb Bush for the lead in FiveThirtyEight’s count of endorsement “points.”

Members of Congress aren't the only ones moving to his corner this week. The Florida senator also picked up supporters in Arkansas and Pennsylvania and Virginia.  

We’ve seen this pattern before. In 2004, Democratic party actors mostly sat on their hands until Iowa. When John Kerry won there, the party rapidly rallied behind him, and he won the nomination easily. In 2008, John McCain had an early lead in Republican endorsements but they flattened out. When he showed new life in Iowa, finishing just a few votes from third place with 13 percent of the vote, the party rallied behind him, and he, too, went on to win.

It isn't that party actors merely follow Iowa voters. If they did, they would have supported Ted Cruz this time and Mike Huckabee in 2008. They appear to use early voting as a source of information about the electoral appeal of candidates when they are otherwise uncertain. If Rubio wins this time, especially if he wins convincingly after a rush of endorsements, it will be strong confirming evidence that the parties do choose nominees, and use the primaries and caucuses for information-gathering role.

Now we can’t say yet that party actors have chosen Rubio, let alone that they are carrying it out. Other outcomes remain possible. He still does not have the support of a single Republican governor. He has 5 of the 54 Republican U.S. senators, and barely 1 in 10 GOP members of the House. 

Yet it isn't hard to see where things are heading. New endorsements mean new resources, which translate into votes. This means money but also volunteer time and positive stories in the conservative and mainstream press. The support gives him leeway, too. If Rubio falls short in New Hampshire and even South Carolina, he’ll likely keep going. Candidates with less party support will not. If it’s true that any candidate can surge at any time, then simply sticking around is a real plus.

Support from the politicians, campaign and governing professionals, formal party officials and staff, donors and activists, and party-aligned interest groups and media that make up a political party can’t force voters to go along. But voters rarely need to be dragged kicking and screaming to the candidate with the most resources. If the trickle since Iowa becomes a flood, the voters will almost certainly follow.

  1. In that sense, the primaries and caucuses play a role similar to what they did in the 1950s and 1960s when the parties used primaries for an information-gathering role, but were free to ignore primaries if they wished. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net