MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has gotten a lot of bad news lately.
Bush finished in sixth place in the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1 and landed in fourth place in New Hampshire’s Republican presidential primary on Feb. 9. In South Carolina, which holds its GOP contest on Saturday, he’s polling in fourth place according to the RealClearPolitics average.
The Bush campaign hit another roadblock in South Carolina when the state’s governor, Nikki Haley endorsed his rival Florida Sen. Marco Rubio Wednesday afternoon. Haley has an 81 percent approval rating among likely Republican voters and Bush made no attempt to minimize the significance of Haley’s support when Yahoo asked him about it a campaign event in Myrtle Beach.
“I’d rather [she] endorse me,” Bush said, adding: “Trying to be Captain Obvious here; she’s a good person. It doesn’t change anything. I’m going to work hard. We’re within striking distance right now of second place based on the polls.”
Haley’s endorsement was a particularly harsh blow to Bush, as Rubio is one of the candidates competing with him for the support of more mainstream Republican voters. Businessman Donald Trump, who is aiming for a more conservative base, won handily in New Hampshire and is currently the frontrunner in South Carolina.
Bush’s family, which includes two former presidents, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, has deep ties in South Carolina. The state has been seen as a chance for him to regain some momentum.
At his event in Myrtle Beach, an audience member asked Bush about the state of the race. Bush, who has a large enough war chest to keep his campaign going for some time, said he expects the Republican primary will be a long one.
“This is the third state. We’ve got 53 I think — or 52 — other jurisdictions, not just states. We’ve got territories and other places, Guam, these other places. So we’ve got a long way to go,” Bush said.
There are indeed 52 other Republican primaries and caucuses after South Carolina. In addition to the 50 states, Republican convention delegates are awarded in Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands. In total, a candidate needs 1,236 delegates to secure the Republican nomination.
“Donald Trump has 18 delegates. You’ve got to have 1,200 delegates plus to be able to win the nomination. We’ve got a long way to go. I mean, the way I look at it, he’s 13 delegates ahead of me,” Bush said.
Bush also addressed the possibility that, in a large field, a candidate could secure the nomination without the support of a majority of the Republican electorate.
“I know the winnowing out process has already begun,” he said. “The Bush plan would be for you to vote for me for me to be the one that takes on Donald Trump and for me to unify the party around a proven conservative record.”
Despite his showing in the first two states and a lower-tier position in the polls, all the Bush supporters who spoke to Yahoo News at the Myrtle Beach event were optimistic. Mitzi Prater, a Bush campaign volunteer from Florida, suggested Bush’s supporters may be quieter than others and, as a result, could have gone uncounted.
“I don’t see any problem at all. I really don’t. I think that Jeb people are very, very focused. I think they’re very laid back. I think they’re dedicated. They love him,” Prater said. “I see the people that are relaxed about this whole thing and I think they’re going to come out of the woodwork. I think they’re going to mark their ballots and they’re not saying anything.”
Ron Spencer, a Bush volunteer from South Carolina, echoed the positive outlook.
“This is a marathon. It’s a marathon. It’s not a 100-yard dash,” Spencer said.
Spencer said he believed Bush could keep going even without finishing in the top three in South Carolina.
“There’s no quit in him,” Spencer said of Bush. “He’s all in.”
Chris Ham, a South Carolina resident who was clutching a pennant he had gotten autographed by Bush, was also bullish. However, Ham told Yahoo News, he was personally coming under fire for that position.
“I’ll tell you, my brother’s a staunch Trump fan and he’s just giving me hell,” Ham said.