Has the battle for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination come down to just three candidates? At least two political pundits think so.
While a guest on the Fox News Channel, Larry Sabato, who directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, recently said that as of right now Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio -- in no particular order -- are the three Republicans from which the nominee will ultimately emerge.
Charles Krauthammer, who recently released the paperback edition of his best-selling book, Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics, agrees with Sabato's assessment.
"I would say that right now, and it's very early, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Jeb [Bush] are the clear frontrunners," he reiterates. "Each has a certain appeal, each has, I think, a certain attractiveness, and I think most Republicans would be happy with any of them as president."
But Krauthammer thinks the real question is who would be the best to defeat Hillary Clinton.
"Of those I think Marco Rubio has a bit of the edge. Scott Walker is new and exciting; I think he'd be strong. I'd put him second," the author poses. "Jeb would be less so because he obviously suffers, through no fault of his own, from the legacy of being a Bush, even though he is not his brother; he is not his father. But I do think that is a liability that is very hard for him to escape."
Bush still leads the RealClearPolitics compilation of GOP polls, with Walker second and Rubio third. Though a recent CNN/ORC poll shows Rubio ahead of Bush.
Bush not the nominee?
One conservative political analyst doesn't believe Bush will ultimately be the nominee. Tom Pauken, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, says the former Florida governor hasn't been able to move away from the pack.
"Clearly he tried to muscle people out of the race; it hasn't worked," Pauken observes. "I mean, Marco Rubio will take votes away from Jeb Bush, not just in Florida but elsewhere. You've John Kasich who's about to enter the race; he will take votes away from Jeb Bush as well."
And the analyst also makes note of the Bush fatigue factor.
"I think there's this general mood -- 'no more Bushes.' And it's not just conservatives," he asserts. "I think it cuts across the line to even more liberal Republicans."
So Pauken believes Bush will have a tough time.
"In my judgment, he will not win Iowa. I think he has to win New Hampshire, and if he doesn't do well in New Hampshire, then I think everything begins to unravel. So I just do not see Jeb Bush becoming the nominee," he predicts.