Larry Sabato: Jeb Bush now 'the leader of the field' for 2016

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,2016 Elections,Chris Christie,Larry Sabato,Jeb Bush,Barbara Bush

With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stalled by the “Bridgegate” affair, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has become the establishment's candidate and top pick to win the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, according to a new analysis of the race.

“We now consider Bush the leader of the field if he decides to run,” said the influential “Crystal Ball” from the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

“In recent months, we’ve noticed an unmistakable and widespread desire among some of the Republicans we talk to, particularly ones who would be classified as members of the establishment on and off Capitol Hill, for a third Bush nominee in less than three decades. In one conversation, we mentioned several other potential candidates on our list, but the chatter kept coming back to Jeb. He was the only candidate with whom these party leaders appeared to be comfortable,” said the University of Virginia team.

Bush has been left of many lists because of his last name, sometimes including those of Larry Sabato, who heads the Center for Politics. But the problems facing Christie have sent GOP leaders and donors looking for an alternative, and it seems to be Bush.

Sabato has been pushing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for months as the top pick, but put Bush on the summit of his 2016 mountain.

Bush has danced around the issue, but this week indicated that he is thinking about it, saying, "I can honestly tell you that I don't know what I'm going to do."

In their latest evaluation, only Bush received an up arrow, with Christie, Walker, and Sen. Rand Paul all getting down arrows. The positives: “Strong gubernatorial resume; Hispanic connections; Key swing state; National Bush money and organization.” The negatives: “Wrong last name (Bush dynasty) -- although Clinton dynasty could neutralize this; George W. Bush's record? Does he actually want to run?”

The U.Va. team also noted that former first lady Barbara Bush has quieted her opposition to having another son run for president. “Perhaps another weathervane is Bush's mother, Barbara, who recently softened her stance against the idea of another Bush presidency after saying last year that the country has ‘had enough Bushes,' ” they noted.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.