This could be Jeb Bush's last stand

Could Saturday Be The End Of Jeb Bush's Campaign?

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Jeb Bush's happy warrior mask is slipping with his back against the wall in South Carolina.

The former Florida governor's team proudly declared the state "Bush country" as the primary kicked off ten days ago, the place that would resurrect his candidacy and return some order to a universe in which a big-fundraising, well-qualified brother and son of presidents should succeed in American politics.


Instead, he's has been met with a series of setbacks and indignities and appears on the brink of a weak finish in Saturday's election that could deal a fatal blow to his campaign. And he's not happy about it. See also: Here's who would be president if Facebook likes counted as votes

"This is a fun journey but it gets arduous from time to time," Bush admitted as he wrapped up his speech in Columbia Friday afternoon after asking for voters' prayers — whether or not they're backing his campaign.

Bush hoped his edging Marco Rubio for fourth place in New Hampshire would give him a badly needed boost with the South Carolina voters who helped put former President George W. Bush on the path to the GOP nomination in 2000. He even got his older brother out on the stump for the first time, putting a renewed bounce in his step.

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This could be Jeb Bush's last stand
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - JANUARY 15: Former Republican presidential candidate and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) announces his endorsement of Jeb Bush for president on January 15, 2016 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Graham dropped his bid for the presidency last month. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - JANUARY 14: Republican presidential candidates (L-R) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Jeb Bush laugh during a commercial break during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center on January 14, 2016 in North Charleston, South Carolina. The sixth Republican debate is held in two parts, one main debate for the top seven candidates, and another for three other candidates lower in the current polls. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
GRINNELL, IA - JANUARY 12: Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush greets people during a town hall at the Brownell's Firearms Manufacturing company on January 12, 2016 in Grinnell, Iowa. Bush continues his quest to become the Republican presidential nominee. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
WAUKESHA, WI - NOVEMBER 09: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) sits with Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush (L) at La Casa de Esperanza during a campaign stop on November 9, 2015 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Tomorrow Bush will participate in the third Republican presidential debate sponsored by Fox Business News and the Wall Street Journal at the Milwaukee Theater in nearby Milwaukee. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 2: Republican presidential candidate and former Florida governor Jeb Bush allows a supporter to loosen his necktie during a rally on his 'Jeb Can Fix It' Tour on November 2, 2015 at the Tampa Garden Club in Tampa, Florida. Following dropping poll numbers and poor debate performance Bush is trying to reset his campaign that many say has been flailing. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 14: Republican presidential hopeful and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad eat a pork chop on a stick at the Iowa Pork Tent during the Iowa State Fair on August 14, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates are addressing attendees at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox stage. The State Fair runs through August 23. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 14: Republican presidential hopeful and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (C) talks with members of the media as U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (L) (R-IA) and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R) (R-IA) look on during the Iowa State Fair on August 14, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates are addressing attendees at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox stage. The State Fair runs through August 23. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JUNE 15: Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush waves on stage as he announces his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination during an event at Miami-Dade College - Kendall Campus on June 15 , 2015 in Miami, Florida. Bush joins a list of Republican candidates to announce their plans on running against the Democrats for the White House. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MYRTLE BEACH, SC - MARCH 18: Former Florida Governor and potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush kisses a supporter during an early morning GOP breakfast event on March 18, 2015 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Bush announced in December that he 'actively explore' a presidential run in 2016. He is currently on a two day tour through South Carolina and will attend several fundraising events. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images)

But the voters have proven slow in following. A highly coveted endorsement from popular South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley — one Bush himself had described as "the most powerful, meaningful one in the state" earlier this week — went instead to Rubio. Bush and his campaign have spent days fighting off questions about when he'll drop out with growing irritation, and denying reports that he's running out of money. And a big bet on the state doesn't seem to be paying dividends.

It doesn't look likely that Bush will do any better here than he did in the New Hampshire, with polls suggesting he's barely cracking double digits and is more likely than not to finish behind Rubio for fourth place even though his super-PAC has dropped $13 million on ads — almost as much as the other candidates and their super-PACs combined.

Bush still has a chance to beat Rubio in South Carolina, and has a tiny glimmer of hope at catching Ted Cruz for second place. He's not that far behind either in recent surveys, and the polls have proved wrong before.

But if he does finish fourth, the chorus of establishment Republicans calling for him to exit the race and let another candidate unite the party against Trump will grow deafening. Whether or not he ignores them, his pleas to donors to keep faith become even harder — just as the campaign calendar turns to a stretch of big expensive states.

"I hope that you believe that it's possible for us to do this," a plaintive Bush told voters in Rock Hill Thursday night. "I hope you don't think the end is near."

Bush had the entire clan on the trail in the final days, bringing in his siblings, his wife and even his mother as he seeks to right the ship. And while they sought to stay upbeat, even his own family admitted that it hasn't been smooth sailing.

"These things never go the way that you hope. You have you game plan, you're going to have some bumps in the road. Donald Trump has clearly been a wildcard in this campaign. But sooner or later it's going to come down to Trump and one other guy and I still believe Jeb's going to be that candidate," Marvin Bush told Mashable after his older brother's Columbia rally. "He certainly wants to have a good showing in South Carolina, and I think he's poised to do so."

To add insult to injury, the man who just in the last few days attacked Bush's brother for failing to prevent 9/11 and publicly feuded with the pope himself looks poised to cruise to victory, with Trump holding a comfortable lead in most recent polls.

Flashes of irritation kept breaking through Bush's upbeat demeanor in the final days on the campaign trail in South Carolina.

"I've been tagged as the common core candidate. Look, you know what I am? I'm the education candidate," an exasperated Bush said Friday morning in Spartanburg after calling the rest of the candidates "jibber jabbers" who don't know squat about education reform.

"It's not a town hall unless it's like this where you get to ask questions," he snapped at one voter in Columbia who referenced a comment from Trump's town hall with MSNBC the previous night.

And he was clearly sick of how he's described in the media.

"The pundits on cable TV [say], you know, I'm in the establishment lane. It's like an interstate somewhere, you go just straight and you can't do anything about it," he groused earlier in the speech to roughly 100 people packed into a side room at a local soul food restaurant. "This so-called establishment candidate in the establishment lane turned the whole state upside down."

Even his surrogates seemed as focused on firing back at his weaknesses.

"To those who say 'we don't want dynasties,' I understand what you're saying. But there's no such thing as dynasty in America. The only way you can become president is if your fellow citizens vote for you," South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said as he wrapped up his Spartanburg comments. "Jeb Bush is the best guy for the times in which we live in."

Bush had a similar reply when a college student told him his peers said they wouldn't back him "just because you're the third Bush."

"I'm not trying to break the record with the Adams family and the Bush family," he joked before pivoting away from the question.

"Know that there are a lot of people praying with you," one woman told Bush in Columbia, bucking him up by complimenting his mother before asking her question. "Don't lose heart."

But if he can't claw his way past Rubio Saturday night, it's hard to see how Bush sticks around for much longer.

Check out more from the 2016 campaign in the gallery below.

2016 Presidential Power Rankings 2/19
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This could be Jeb Bush's last stand

5. Marco Rubio, Republican, senator from Florida

Rubio was perhaps the biggest winner from the Iowa caucuses, as he and his campaign played the "expectations game" perfectly and surprised with a stronger-than-expected, third-place finish right behind Trump.

He stumbled ahead of New Hampshire with a widely panned debate performance, ending up fifth in the primary. Now, he has seen a swing of momentum back his way ahead of the South Carolina primary. On Wednesday, he secured the endorsement of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is highly popular in the state.

And his polling trends leading into primary day look very much like they did heading into the Iowa caucuses.

National polling average among Republican voters: 16% (3rd)
South Carolina: 17.1% (3rd)
Nevada: 19% (3rd)

STOCK: Neutral
Last month: 4

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

3. Ted Cruz, Republican, senator from Texas

Cruz rode a record turnout in Iowa — something that was supposed to benefit Trump — to a surprisingly robust victory. He has built momentum heading into his target — the "SEC primary" states in the South, many of which vote March 1.

Cruz's under-the-radar campaign has put him in sneakily good position to capture the nomination. And his eye-popping fund-raising numbers mean he will most likely be in the race for the long haul.

Cruz inspires a flood of enthusiasm among the GOP base, and he may be the best-positioned candidate from within the political sphere to back up the notion that he's not a typical politician, that he is the outsider the base wants despite his day job in Washington.

National polling average among Republican voters: 20.6% (2nd)
South Carolina: 17.6% (2nd)
Nevada: 20% (2nd)

STOCK: Rising
Last month: 3

(Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

2. Donald Trump, Republican, businessman

Trump has lit the political world on fire since his entry into the race last summer. And he has showed surprising staying power — we're now on month No. 9 of the Trump show.

He lost in Iowa. But the Hawkeye State was never fertile ground for someone like Trump, a brash New York billionaire. And a major win in the Granite State proved the formidable nature of his candidacy.

There's a clear appetite among Republican primary voters for someone like Trump, who entered the race to controversy surrounding his position on illegal immigration. Business Insider discovered more of that when we followed him on the trail for a week last year.

Trump, leading big in polls of South Carolina, could start charting his course toward the nomination in the Palmetto State.

National polling average among Republican voters: 34.2% (1st)
South Carolina: 33.5% (1st)
Nevada: 42% (1st)

STOCK: Neutral
Last month: 2

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

1. Hillary Clinton, Democrat, former secretary of state

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) training center in Henderson

Clinton is (an increasingly shaky) No. 1 here because she has proved formidable in polling and fund-raising and has still has a clearer path to the nomination than anyone on the GOP side.

But Clinton is facing an increasingly rugged challenge from Sanders, who threatens to win easily a state she captured in 2008. Her campaign is teetering perhaps more than it ever has been, as her "firewall" — her strength in states with more diverse Democratic electorates — is showing signs of melting in Nevada.

If Clinton loses in Nevada, it would be a major blow to a campaign that once seemed to boast the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee.

National polling average among Democratic voters: 46.3% (1st)
South Carolina: 56.7% (1st)
Nevada: 48.7% (1st)

STOCK: Neutral
Last month: 1

(Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/MSNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)


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