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Why The Fight Between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio Is Getting Ugly

Breaking down the fundraising numbers. Donald Trump isn’t really self-funding yet. And Christie’s cash woes.
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The Bush-Rubio game of survival: It’s been bubbling behind the scenes for weeks, and yesterday the fight between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio broke out into the open. It’s getting very prickly between the two Floridians, and here’s the big reason why: Both have reason to be disappointed in their fundraising this past quarter, and they both need a boost fast. Bush’s $13.4 million haul didn’t impress a lot of observers, but he can claim that his total beat out Rubio’s $5.7 million (and Ted Cruz’s notable $12.2 million, by the way). Team Rubio was quick to boast that their $11 million cash on hand number is more than Bush’s $10.3 million – complete with a press release implicitly dinging Bush for being careless with donors’ money. And then came a counterargument from Rubio foes, who pointed out that a chunk of the Florida senator’s cash is earmarked for the general election, making his actual primary race cash-in-the-bank figure less than Bush’s. And that’s not to mention Bush’s suggestion that he’d legislate against the “dark money” Rubio’s largely relying upon. You’ve even got Jeb Bush Jr. stating publicly yesterday that Rubio should “drop out or do something” because he’s not doing the job he’s been paid to do. Oof. It’s getting ugly.

Why so aggressive? The reason for the feuding between Rubio and Bush comes down to this: They’re both competing for the same donors, and both are feeling pressure to show progress. And frankly, they’re both stuck in the second tier right now. Bush is trying to jump-start a surge with a massive TV buy, hoping that by November, polls will consistently show Bush at the top instead of treading water. For their part, Rubio's camp has been trying to will momentum into appearing, but the facts haven't yet matched his perceived potential. He too needs to show progress soon if he wants donors to start viewing him as the best establishment investment.

More third quarter fundraising tidbits: Here are some other items we noted from combing through the data overnight.

  • Trump is not really self-funding yet: Despite big promises of funding his own campaign, Donald Trump is spending more of his supporters’ money than his own so far. Trump has invested just shy of $2 million in his own money into his run, while the campaign spent about $4.2 million this quarter, with $3.9 million coming from mostly online – and unsolicited – donations. Oh, and he spent $678,000 on hats and t-shirts. Here’s more from our team’s compelling deep dive into the numbers.
  • Christie’s cash problem: Backers of the New Jersey gov have got to be fretting over his cash on hand number this morning. Christie’s $1.4 million in the bank is less than Lindsey Graham’s and Rand Paul’s.
  • Don’t sleep on Ted Cruz: He had a very good report – his fundraising number was high, his burn rate was low and he’s got a nice chunk of change in the bank. Nobody else on the Republican side really checked all of those boxes.
  • Dems still rule in hard dollars: Republicans may be dominating the super PAC game, but when it comes to hard dollars, Democrats still rule. Clinton and Sanders raised a combined $56.1 million this quarter. That’s about the same as the sum of the Republican field’s FIVE biggest hauls, which come in at a total of $58.9 million.

Biden’s “burning conviction”: Here’s your Biden headline of the day: The Los Angeles Times first got its hands on a message (now confirmed by NBC) from longtime Biden adviser Ted Kaufman, who’s reaching out to key political supporters to say “If he decides to run, we will need each and every one of you – yesterday.” While the appeal includes few hints about the final timeline for an announcement, it does note that Biden’s concern for his family remains “his first and foremost consideration” – but that the vice president knows that he’s running out of time to meet ballot deadlines. And it floats the idea that Biden’s chief motivation for running would be his “burning conviction” to help the middle class, pointing to the outlines of the lane that Biden sees for himself in the current Democratic field. We’ve long said that the fundraising and endorsement scorecards are stacked against him – and consider these two new data points fresh this morning. 1) Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have a combined $60 MILLION cash on hand right now and 2) Biden’s support in our latest NBC News/Survey Monkey poll took a bit of a hit after the Tuesday Democratic debate.

The fight over format: The spat over CNBC’s debate format continues, with Trump crowing this morning on Twitter that the network will limit the October 28 contest to two hours, as Trump and Carson demanded. (CNBC, which is a sister channel of NBC News and MSNBC, has not yet commented.) As we noted above, Trump has only spent $4.2 million this quarter – a fraction of what rivals like Carson and Bush have shelled out – and he’s still leading. So does anyone think that he’d pass up yet another opportunity for free publicity and a fight against the media?

Three storylines from our latest NBC News/SurveyMonkey online poll: Our online poll out this morning shows some key findings in the wake of the first Democratic debate – and the leadup to the third GOP contest. First, a majority of Democrats (56 percent) say that Hillary Clinton won the debate, with 33 percent saying Sanders performed the best. Second, Democrats are relatively unified on issues like gun control and minimum wage, but the general electorate is very split. And third, one reason why Carson is catching up to Donald Trump? White evangelicals.

Gowdy pushes back, again: Republicans are again having to clean up after one of their own suggested that the Benghazi panel is largely a political exercise.After GOP Rep. Richard Hanna told a local radio station that “I think that there was a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people and an individual, Hillary Clinton,” Benghazi panel chair Trey Gowdy put out a 279 word statement pushing back. It might be an overused phrase in politics and PR, but it’s still true more often than not: “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.” This much explanation really risks looking like the party doth protest too much. Happening today, by the way: Top Clinton aide Huma Abedin will testify behind closed doors to the committee. And don’t miss this from the New York Times: “Federal agents were still cataloging the classified information from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s personal email server last week when President Obama went on television and played down the matter [on 60 Minutes]”… Those statements angered F.B.I. agents who have been working for months to determine whether Ms. Clinton’s email setup had in fact put any of the nation’s secrets at risk, according to current and former law enforcement officials.”

Comparing Iraq and Afghanistan: Finally, turning to foreign policy after yesterday’s Afghanistan announcement, don’t miss this analysis from the NYT’s Peter Baker. “As he described the factors that went into his decision to keep American troops in Afghanistan, the one word President Obama did not mention on Thursday was Iraq. Four years ago, he stuck to his plan to pull out of Iraq, only to watch the country collapse back into sectarian strife and a renewed war with Islamic extremists. Facing a similar situation in Afghanistan, Mr. Obama has decided not to follow a similar course.” It’s clear that Obama has learned the lesson of Iraq and wants to avoid a too-quick withdrawal. But in classic fashion, the administration hasn’t actually admitted to the comparison, glaring as it might be.

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