February 27, 2016
Marco Rubio needs to win his home state. Donald Trump is leading in that state. In order to win Florida, Rubio needs to show viability elsewhere. His polling gap at home may prevent him from picking up enough support on the road to get the result he needs at home.
Quite the pickle. One that a certain Donald J. Trump is having fun exploiting. It’s hard to keep track of the full range of Rubio-Trump insults, but the King of Polls never fails to mention his lead over Rubio in Florida.
It’s not a small advantage either. The two newest polls have Trump leading Rubio by 20 and 16 points respectively. Viewed in isolation this does not make Marco look good. Trump uses it to claim Rubio’s constituents aren’t very impressed with him. It’s a persuasive stat.
It’s also somewhat misleading. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of trailing by this amount in your own state is disturbing, regardless of the circumstances. But he’s trailing someone who spends a good amount of time in Florida himself.
The damning polls were when he trailed Ted Cruz, something that was the case as recently as last month. The combination of Rubio doing decently in the initial contests and Jeb Bush exiting have changed the Cruz-Rubio dynamic.
In January, the three polls had them at Cruz +5, Cruz +7, Cruz +4. In February, the numbers show Rubio +15, Rubio +16. It’s not just a matter of Marco absorbing Jeb’s support. In January, Cruz averaged 18.3%. In February he’s down to 11%.
As we’ve covered before, Florida is ideal territory for Trump. The northern Panhandle section resembles Alabama and Georgia where The Donald is polling well. The southern part of the state has plenty of transplants from places like New York and New Jersey.
Floridians have known Trump decades longer than Rubio. He’s the new kid on the block by comparison. Some Republicans may resent his decision to run for president this soon, leaving his Senate seat at risk of being taken by the Democrats.
Aside from the culturally conservative Panhandle, Florida Republicans aren’t overly conservative either. Rubio’s in a difficult position where conservatives may hold his immigration bill against him, while moderates think he’s too right wing.
He also has his usual issue of broad but shallow support where his standing is very susceptible to whatever has happened in the past week. As a state representative prior to running for Senate, he doesn’t have a statewide base of support.
Having become a national figure from the moment he defeated Charlie Crist in the 2010 Senate primary, he hasn’t done much to make Floridians adopt him since. Especially when Jeb was still in the race, he didn’t refer to his home state that frequently. Now he’s a little more vocal.
Trump will tell you these are all excuses. He’s right. You have to win your home state. Ronald Reagan beat Walter Mondale everywhere. Except his home state of Minnesota. Barry Goldwater got destroyed by LBJ. He still won Arizona.
This isn’t the general election, but the principle is the same. Rubio has to win somewhere on March 1 to remain viable. A few states are in reach, but there’s absolutely no margin for error.
He led the last poll in Minnesota by a couple points, but that was in mid-January. He was within a few points in Arkansas, but that was at the beginning of February. If you squint, Oklahoma is in play.
Tennessee works demographically, and there’s no data since November. Two of three polls (the other was a disaster for him) make Virginia look borderline plausible. He doesn’t need all five of these, which is good, because he may get zero.
In order to win, he’ll need Trump to drop a couple of points (expecting anything more is absurd), a few Carson and Kasich voters to think he’s more likely to stop Trump, and some Cruz voters to do the same.
Rubio had a strong debate and closes well whenever that happens. Except for New Hampshire, he got a plurality of late deciders. Even without extra pressure to stop Trump, he’s regularly exceeded his final polling average by 3 to 5 points.
So a couple/few wins are possible, but require him to thread a very thin needle. If just a few voters wonder why the Great Anti-Trump Hope can’t impress his own state, it’s enough to keep him from winning any of them.
The March 5 states are mostly caucuses. Those favor Trump and his enthusiastic hordes. After Nevada, we can’t claim that format impedes him. Michigan is up on March 8. It’s a natural fit for Trump and as long as Kasich is around and even slightly viable, almost mathematically impossible for Rubio.
It’s particularly unlikely without momentum from Super Tuesday wins. If Rubio doesn’t get a state or three on March 1, he’s going to go into Florida on March 15 with no victories. His home state will not be his first.
Even with a couple wins, it’s gonna be a close call. Trump is already at 44 and 45 percent in polls, and pulled a 48 percent back in January. Even if all other candidates exit, Rubio would need to win a minimum of 3/4 of their support. That’s a tall order.
He needs Cruz and Carson to exit and to win a strong majority of their voters. At the same time Kasich needs to get out, or Floridians need to decide he’s not worth wasting a vote on there.
If he gets at least 2/3, and pulls a few voters back from Trump, Marco can win 51/49 or 46/44 depending on Kasich’s presence.
That’s if he does well on Super Tuesday, which may not happen because he’s seemingly struggling in Florida. Call it a Catch-22, call it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Either way it’s a trap, only escaped by winning despite the disadvantage of a bad polling narrative.