Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush may have dropped out of the presidential race weeks ago — but his name is on the ballot in Florida on Tuesday anyway.
And he may get a good chunk of votes in the primary — perhaps the final insult for Marco Rubio, who trails front-runner Donald Trump by 17 points in the latest poll out Monday.
The votes could come on two fronts: absentee voting started weeks before Bush left the race, and the fact his name remains on the ballot Tuesday despite suspending his campaign.
Early voting alone could provide a substantial number of votes for Bush in Florida. University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith has been tracking early voting and absentee voting in the lead-up to Tuesday.
Of the roughly 660,000 Republican absentee ballots that have been cast so far, about 220,000, or one-third, were received by February 23, the likely date of return for ballots returned before Bush dropped out late February 20, per Smith’s estimates.
It’s impossible to know how many of those absentee ballots voted for Bush, but his campaign made an effort to turn out the early vote in his home state before folding up shop.
Bush has withheld any endorsement of another candidate going into Tuesday, though he personally met with the three besides Donald Trump.
In Texas, the home state of his brother, former President George W. Bush, which held its primary 10 days after Jeb Bush suspended his campaign on the eve of a disappointing finish in South Carolina, Bush ended up with 1.25 percent of the Republican vote, largely due to early voting.
Of course, Bush is unlikely to be able to pick up enough votes to be blamed for a Rubio loss — there are over 4 million registered Republicans in the Sunshine State and Rubio is trailing heavily, with polls showing him behind Trump by double digits. The senator has been focusing intensely on the state, hoping to pull off an upset.
Still, if he were to close the gap — every vote will matter. Rubio trailed by double digits going into votes in the Virginia Republican primary and out-performed expectations, but still fell short by less than 3 points.
The campaign was quick to blame Ohio Gov. John Kasich for playing spoiler in that state, saying those few thousand voters could have denied Trump the victory.
“There’s going to be a sizable number of people who voted for Jeb Bush before he dropped out and there’s going to be a sizable number of people who voted for Jeb Bush after he dropped out,” Smith said.
It’s not just early votes, however. Plenty of Bush loyalists in Florida, including some of his former campaign staff, have said they will vote for him on Tuesday, standing by their candidate.
“There are people, and I’ve heard rumors of that, of Jeb people saying they’re just going to vote for Jeb anyway,” said Miami-Dade GOP Chairman Nelson Diaz, who supports Rubio outside of his official duties.
If those numbers start to add up, Diaz said “sure” it would be embarrassing to Rubio, Florida’s native son still in the race and a one-time political mentee of Bush.
Rubio’s Florida co-chairman wouldn’t answer questions about how many votes Bush may net — and whether the campaign is concerned.
“I’m not going to make any predictions about Jeb Bush,” Adam Hasner said in West Palm Beach.