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Jeb Bush's Last-Name Problem

If he runs for the White House, Jeb Bush's major problem will be his last name.
Image: Jeb Bush announces plans to explore running for president in 2016
epa04531290 (FILE) A file picture dated 07 October 2006 shows then US president George W. Bush (C) walking with his father the former President George H.W. Bush (L), and his brother then Florida Governor Jeb Bush following a christening ceremony the US Navy's new aircraft carrier the George H.W. Bush, at the Northrop Grumman shipyard in Newport News, Virginia. According to news reports on 16 December 2014, Jeb Bush has announced that he was exploring possibilities to run for the White House in 2016. EPA/MATTHEW CAVANAUGHMATTHEW CAVANAUGH / EPA

If he runs for the White House, Jeb Bush will have considerable name ID, a deep roster of party honchos he can count on, and tons of money (Bloomberg News says Bush’s allies are setting a $100 million goal for their first quarter). But he’s also going to have one major problem: his last name. That was the conclusion after one of us observed a focus group NBC/WSJ pollster Peter Hart (D) conducted in battleground Colorado for the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. The 12 focus-group participants -- a combination of Democrats, Republicans, and independents -- appeared to have two beefs with Bush. One, they were down on dynastic candidates (including Hillary Clinton; more on her below). "I wouldn't be opposed to Congress saying, 'If your last name is Clinton or Bush, you don't even get to run,’” said Charlie Loan, a 52-year-old GOP-leaning independent. Half of the participants agreed with him. Two, they clearly associated Jeb Bush with his brother. "Jeb Bush is more of the same," said Brandon Graham, a 38-year-old independent who says he leans Democratic. "I enjoy gas [prices] being low. I enjoy my house appreciating and I enjoy being in not any more wars." Added Susan Brink, a 56-year-old independent: "I just can't stand him." The words associated with Bush in a free-association exercise were: "Joke." "No thank you." "Clown." "Interesting." "Don't need him." "Intriguing." "Greedy." "Bad scene."

Hillary doesn’t fare much better

Hillary Clinton didn’t fare much better in the focus group. The words used to describe her: "Hopeful." "Crazy." "Strong." "Spitfire." "Don't like her." "Untrustworthy." "More of the same." "Next candidate, please." "A politician but gets things done." Andrew Regan, a 28-year-old Democrat who says he supports Elizabeth Warren, said of Clinton: "She's just not relatable.” By comparison, half of the participants said they'd pick Warren as their next door neighbor. "She is personable and knowledgeable, and I think she's got a good handle on what's going on in the country," said Jenny Howard, a 43 year-old GOP-leaning independent. In addition to Warren, the focus-group participants said positive things about Rand Paul: "Entertaining," "Interesting," "Very intriguing," "Honest," "Freedom." You have to conclude here that the love for Warren and Paul is more about the participants looking for something new.

More from the focus group

Participants still aren’t feeling the improving economy: There’s another stellar jobs report out today: 252,000 jobs were created in December, and the unemployment rate fell from 5.8% to 5.6%. The AP says it year-end job creation was the best year in 15 years (!!!). But according to the same Denver-area focus group one of us observed last night, Americans aren’t necessarily feeling these better statistics. "The simple fact is, regardless of what the numbers say, there's a lot of hurting people out there," said Rick Lamutt, a 40 year-old independent. "You've seen on the news, 'Everything's fine, the economy's great, there's jobs everywhere!' Well, if you want to make $9 an hour, you can go get a job, but if you want to make a wage that can support your family, good luck." Loan, the 52-year-old independent who leans Republican agreed: "The media tells us that unemployment is down considerably, but that's not the feeling that I get from talking to my friends and family across the country.” Overall, the 12 participants in the focus group, which was moderated by pollster Peter Hart, described the state of the country as "cloudy" and "gloomy." Yet a bright spot for many of them was sinking gas prices. Nine of the 12 participants said that the low price of fuel has made an impact on them. "It's awesome," said Karstyn Butler, a 39 year-old Democratic homemaker who says she's saving a substantial chunk when she fills up her truck.

California Dreamin’

The most interesting state to watch over the next three years? If you love politics and campaigns, you’re going to love California over the next three years -- now that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced she wouldn’t be seeking re-election, creating the state’s first open Senate seat in more than 20 years. What’s more, you’re likely going to see another open Senate in 2018 (with Sen. Dianne Feinstein likely retirement), as well as an open governorship that year (with Jerry Brown term limited). From 1990 to 1998, California politics was INCREDIBLY volatile. Think Pete Wilson’s two gubernatorial wins and his Prop. 187. You had the Boxer and Feinstein victories in 1992. There was Michael Huffington’s expensive California campaign. Indeed, California politics have only calmed down since the 2003 gubernatorial recall. But, folks, that all changed starting yesterday.

The battle for Boxer’s seat could look a lot like last year’s race to replace Henry Waxman

If you want to know how the battle for Boxer’s seat will play out, last year’s race to succeed ex-Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) is probably a good guide. It will be jam-packed with candidates, and it will be VERY expensive. As one of us wrote yesterday, you could see high-profile Democrats like Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, state Attorney General Kamala Harris, and former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa all run for the seat (though it’s also very possible these Democrats strategically divide up which offices they’ll pursue over the next three years -- Boxer’s seat, Feinstein’s seat, and Brown’s seat). And then there’s the likelihood you’ll see deep-pocketed Silicon Valley or Hollywood types throw their hats into the ring. (Politico says that wealthy environmentalist Tom Steyer is considering a run.) Remember: California has a top-two primary system -- regardless of party -- so it's possible that two Democrats clash in the 2016 general election. Or one Democrat and one Republican. Or even two Republicans (though that's very, very unlikely in this blue state). If there’s JUST ONE Republican running, then it’s quite likely that person makes it to the general (because that person would get all of the GOP support). But if there are two or more Republicans, that’s how two Democrats would reach the general. One other thing in this Super PAC era, if any state is going to hit the $1 billion for a Senate race, it’s California.

Two ways to look at the (still-emerging) 2016 GOP field

Two different stories described two different ways to look at the emerging Republican presidential field. The first, by the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin, describes how Jeb Bush (and Mike Huckabee, to a lesser extent) might not fit into the GOP politics of the Obama Era. “Figures like Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Bush, who rose to prominence in that earlier era, are likely to face off with men like Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, whose vigorous opposition to Mr. Obama has been a central organizing principle of Republican politics.” The other way comes courtesy of National Journal’s Ron Brownstein: Too much competition from conservatives could create a wide-open path for someone like Bush to win from the middle. As Harry Enten puts it, you take both of these theories about the GOP field, and “the GOP nominee has a pretty good chance of coming from anywhere... seems about right.” Exactly.

Huckabee’s interesting take on gay marriage

Mike Huckabee says plenty of provocative things in his new book, “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy.” He suggests that Jay-Z is a pimp for exploiting his wife as a sex object. And he has a chapter entitled, “Bend Over and Take It Like a Prisoner” -- on airport security. But it’s his views on gay marriage that we find the most interesting. "The claim that same-sex marriage is destroying society is actually greatly overstated," Huckabee writes, per NBC’s Andrew Rafferty. "Christians who themselves abandoned the primacy of lifelong marriage to follow the divorce and remarriage customs of a secular society have as much to answer for as those who militantly push to redefine marriage." More Huckabee: "Marriage as an institution is not so much threatened by same-sex couples as it is by heterosexuals' increasing indifference to it." First Jeb Bush and now Huckabee -- but we’re seeing how Republican politicians are trying to defuse the politics of gay marriage by playing down their objections.

Grand jury problems for Kane, Brownback

Finally, don’t miss these two stories. The Philly Inquirer: “The special prosecutor and grand jury investigating allegations that Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane leaked secret information to a newspaper have found evidence of wrongdoing and recommended that she be criminally charged, according to numerous people familiar with the decision.” The AP: “A federal grand jury is looking into loans made to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's re-election campaign and has ordered the state's ethics chief to testify next week as part of its investigation.”

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