Rubio up, Bush down in GOP sweepstakes
© Greg Nash

I am not without Republican friends, and almost all the scuttlebutt I hear behind the scenes is that there is growing interest in Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOwners of meatpacker JBS to pay 0M fine over foreign bribery charges Questions raised about conflicts of interest around Biden son-in-law America needs an industrial policy — now more than ever MORE (R-Fla.) among Republicans and growing skepticism about the magnitude of clout over the long term for former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.).

Make no mistake, Bush will almost certainly post gigantic fundraising numbers when his next report is made public, and he remains the institutional favorite of GOP insiders. The campaign skill and savvy of Team Bush should never be underestimated and entered the campaign full force when he gobbled up some key operatives and donors who would have been expected to support 2012 nominee Mitt Romney.

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On the other hand, Bush's performance on the stump has been mixed, and his relative movement toward the center, being more moderate on issues such as immigration, are smart politics for a general election against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonLate night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study 10 steps toward better presidential debating Continuity is (mostly) on the menu for government contracting in the next administration MORE but have alienated the conservative base more than is generally understood by mainstream pundits.

Rubio, by contrast, has begun to demonstrate fundraising clout and has fairly skillfully navigated the conservative, moderate and institutional powerbroker players within the GOP. His presence in the Senate gives him a good platform, which Bush lacks and Rubio has skillfully employed, to address presidential-caliber issues. Rubio appears to me to be more substantive, thoughtful and ready for prime time than Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.), who will soon be hit by a flurry of "flip flop" attacks from opponents on matters where he has shifted his position, and he appears more attuned to the Republican base than Bush.

If Rubio ultimately decides to run for the Senate again, he will immediately vault to the front of vice presidential speculation. As a Hispanic he would address a major demographic problem the GOP is challenged by, and as a younger senator he would have greater appeal than Bush to voters who are hungry for the change a newer generation of Republicans could bring. And Rubio is knowledgable about foreign policy and national security.

If Rubio runs for president, he should be higher on the list than he is being given credit for now and will be stronger than most of the political media currently believe. For my money, Marco Rubio is the man to watch on the Republican side. As a Hillary Clinton support, he is the potential GOP opponent I worry about the most — not Bush or Walker, or Gov. Chris ChristieChris ChristieThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump combative, Biden earnest during distanced TV duel Chris Christie says he 'was wrong' not to wear face mask at White House Billboard warns Trump's Iowa rally will be 'superspreader event' MORE (R-N.J.), who will be lucky if he is reelected as governor the next time around the way he is going.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. Contact him at brentbbi@webtv.net.