Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio's coming Florida showdown

Veteran Republican operatives believe one of them could be effectively knocked out of the 2016 race before Florida Republicans vote, either through underperforming in the four early-state nominating contests or in the Super Tuesday Southern primary on track for March 1. In that case, the survivor could win the Sunshine State’s winner-take-all contest for 99 delegates without a fight. Conversely, he could find himself fending off confident challengers who decide Florida is worth risking their precious resources…

“I don’t see how Jeb’s not alive come Florida under any circumstance; in that case Florida becomes his Waterloo,” said a Rubio backer who is active on the ground in state. “I’d rather be where Marco is than where Jeb is.”…

Republican operatives unaffiliated with either say neither can afford to lose Florida. A no-holds-barred campaign in Florida could cost $20 million or more. If the loser doesn’t end the primary bankrupt, the symbolism of losing at home could be politically catastrophic. Bush and Rubio begin with high name identification; falling short would be seen as simply a failure to persuade.

Winning could propel the victor to the nomination. “Whoever comes out of South Carolina and New Hampshire, and then wins Florida, is going to be in a very strong position,” Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist based in south Florida, told the Washington Examiner.