For Jeb and Hillary, it's time to get serious

Of the two, Bush is having by far the more difficult time trying to secure the dominant position in his party’s nominating contest. Yet Clinton can’t coast either. The surprising enthusiasm for Senator Bernie Sanders’s challenge; controversies over Clinton’s use of private e-mail for government business; and the finances of her family’s foundation, as well as her awkward attempt to keep from alienating either side in Democrats’ divisive free trade fight, all signal weaknesses that might might be a drag in the general election.

“They’ve got to figure, ‘It’s going to be a competitive race, how do I now distinguish myself?’” said Vin Weber, a former Minnesota congressman and outside adviser to Bush. Weber said that will necessitate “a message that resonates” and said that will provide more substance, earlier. “You’re already seeing it from Clinton, you’re going to see it from Bush, and I think you’ll probably see it from the other candidates. That’s an optimist’s view, but that’s my view.”

Clinton never expected an easy ride, said Ann Lewis, one of her former senior advisers. Her early emphasis on talking to small groups was aimed at connecting personally, which she didn’t do well enough eight years ago. “There’s a cost to that,” Lewis said. “The cost is that it leaves more space for some other issues, i.e. the e-mails, the questions about the foundation, to get perhaps equal billing at this point, to get more time.”

Now, Lewis said, “Stage One is over. Stage Two is beginning.”