FiveThirtyEight’s endorsement tracker has a new Republican leader for the first time in nearly six months: Marco Rubio, who, since his surprisingly strong third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses Monday, has received endorsements from two senators and two representatives.
There has been a lot of debate this presidential campaign about how much influence party elites have on the nominating process, but endorsements have historically been among the best signs of which candidates will succeed in primaries. And although four more endorsements and a slight lead in points1 do not make Rubio a lock as the choice of Republican elected officials, this bump is a sign that members of Congress could be starting to see him as the most acceptable option for the nomination. (Rubio has yet to receive an endorsement from a sitting governor.) Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led our list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.
In some past years, party elites have rallied behind a candidate early in the election cycle — in both parties’ 2000 primaries, for example, both eventual nominees went into Iowa with commanding support from governors, senators and representatives. This cycle has been slower for the GOP, and many Republican officeholders are waiting on the sidelines: Out of 796 potential endorsement points, 223, or 28 percent, have been awarded.2
Iowa caucus winner Ted Cruz has slowly been picking up points as well — he’s added seven since the beginning of the year — though he has yet to receive an endorsement from a sitting senator or governor.
Rubio showed some signs of momentum last fall, when he picked up 28 endorsement points between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, while Bush’s total went up by only 7 points. But that momentum stalled. Still, it’s possible that Rubio’s expectations-exceeding performance in Iowa will provide a more lasting effect.
In contrast to the slow pace of the Republican endorsement race, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has won 465 points, nearly 80 percent of the total available.