“The High Life Has Ended” For Team Jeb

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There’s a fascinating piece up at Politico this morning from Eli Stokols and Marc Caputo that documents the Jeb Bush presidential campaign’s new interest in frugality.

On the first day of a two-day Iowa swing back in August, Jeb Bush flew from Davenport to Ankeny in a private plane. The next day, after he spent more than four hours bounding around the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, a top adviser attributed Bush’s high energy level to having spent less time in transit.

I didn’t know Ankeny, a Des Moines suburb, had its own airstrip. But I digress.

Those days are over.

Last week, Bush spent three days in Iowa, traveling again from Des Moines to the state’s eastern edge, campaigning in the Mississippi River towns of Bettendorf and Muscatine — but this time, he went by car. The campaign also cancelled its reservation at the tony Hotel Blackhawk in nearby Davenport, staying instead at a cheaper hotel. More and more, Bush is flying commercial.

“The high life has ended,” said one Florida operative familiar with the campaign’s operation. “They’re running a more modest operation in the last two weeks, and the traveling party has definitely shrunk.”

If you read the whole piece, Bush campaign operatives are at pains to deny they’re having money troubles. (We’ll know more about that shortly when third-quarter fundraising and spending and cash-on-hand numbers are available.) No, we are told, they’re just smart little squirrels saving up those acorns for the long slog of the primary season. But it’s also clear they fear donors are getting a little annoyed at how little they are getting in the way of tangible political results for the ducats they’ve coughed up:

Conceived as a fundraising juggernaut that would “shock and awe” opponents into oblivion, Bush’s campaign is suddenly struggling to raise hard dollars and increasingly economizing — not because he’s out of money, but to convince nervous donors, who are about to get their first look at his campaign’s burn rate, that he’s not wasting it.

“At a certain point, we want to see a bang for the buck. We’re spending the bucks — and we’re seeing no bang,” a longtime Bush Republican said.

Bush is stuck at 7 percent in an average of national polls. He’s at close to 9 percent in New Hampshire, putting him in sixth place in the early state he most needs to win. Although his poll standing isn’t much better, Marco Rubio is starting to catch the eye of deep-pocketed establishment donors impressed by his leaner operation and unique appeal as a candidate.

Moreover, Bush’s Super-PAC has just spent a solid month running ads, especially in New Hampshire, without any notable payoff so far.

The Politico article doesn’t explicitly say it, but you figure one fear Team Bush has is that donors will decide the whole enterprise is now set up to subsidize itself, spending down the massive early war chest it built up whether or not Jeb’s going anywhere other than Palookaville. This is precisely the accusation Erick Erickson is making about Rand Paul’s campaign in a post that urges the Kentucky senator to “take your campaign out back and shoot it.”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.