LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Jeb Bush’s presidential run in Florida was supposed to be a coronation. Instead, it’s shaping up as a momentous clash against his one-time protégé, Marco Rubio.
At a Republican presidential forum here on Tuesday, many of the state’s well-heeled lobbyists, elite business leaders and grizzled power-brokers — some of them longtime Bush friends and allies — expressed a growing sense that the former governor was losing momentum in Florida’s all-important, winner-take-all March primary.
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The likely beneficiary: Rubio, a once-junior figure on the state’s bare-knuckled political scene who — with his powerful rhetorical style, fresh political image and compelling personal story — is proving his mettle on the national stage.
“People here have been surprised by his staying power. They thought he’d be done,” said Adam McKinnon, a Republican consultant and Rubio supporter who is the grandson of former Florida GOP Sen. Paula Hawkins. “Marco is a more mature person than they remember. They remember him as a kid who won a state House seat.”