March 6, 2016
Welcome to Marco Rubio’s Last Stand. At least until his next last stand in Florida if he survives this one. A few days ago, Puerto Rico was a good opportunity for Rubio to pick up a win. A place others weren’t focusing on to grab some additional delegates.
Now he has to do very well, ideally winning by 10 to 20 points. Super Tuesday went poorly. Semi-Super Saturday was a disaster. No candidate in the campaign season has underperformed expectations on a single day as badly as Rubio did yesterday.
Jeb Bush and friends put up some terrible numbers once people started voting, but none of those catastrophes were unexpected a day or two before the vote. By yesterday morning, it became clear Marco was in a heap of trouble.
He was fading, Cruz was surging, and finishing fourth was more likely than second in each of the four contests. The results were even more dismal. While he stayed ahead of John Kasich everywhere outside of Maine, Rubio never broke 17%, and wound up at 11% in Louisiana, 8% in Maine.
Among Louisiana election day voters (there were plenty of absentee participants), Marco was in single digits. That’s not easily survivable for any contender, but without a clear base of support anywhere, Rubio needed to rely on doing at least decently everywhere.
This brings us to Puerto Rico, the island commonwealth with a budget crisis on par with Rubio’s delegate issues. In an interesting quirk, Puerto Ricans, who otherwise have full U.S. citizenship rights, are not able to vote in the general election, but do participate in the nominating process.
The same is true of places like Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, etc. Hillary Clinton won American Samoa on Super Tuesday. She didn’t get on a plane to campaign there.
Puerto Rico is much closer, and Rubio has another motive. Over one million Puerto Ricans live in Florida and are very able to vote there. Campaigning on the island increases his chances of victory there and shows respect to those who can help him at home on March 15.
While Marco was there, Ted Cruz was in Boise, Idaho, preparing for that vote on March 8. Prior to yesterday, betting markets had Rubio as the favorite, with Trump the next most likely winner. Once Cruz had his big Saturday, he temporarily spiked, before falling back to single digit percentage odds.
On the mainland, Rubio is more susceptible to momentum than any other candidate. At this moment, that’s distinctly negative. If most Puerto Ricans do not believe a Trump presidency or nomination is a good idea, will they shift to the ascendant Cruz, or stick with the guy who was camped out there yesterday?
Rubio has the support of local GOP leaders. They were swept out of office a few years ago, prior to the current financial crisis. The island has spent the past decade in a state of recession. Originally the troubles helped Democrats take office, but have continued and worsened since.
Twenty-four hours ago I was ready to predict a Rubio victory. Nothing has changed on the ground since then. The negative events were elections on the mainland. Will Puerto Ricans dig in their heels and support Rubio?
We have no polls to go on. What follows is my least data-driven, most purely speculative exercise yet:
Marco Rubio 48.7%
Donald Trump 26.6%
Ted Cruz 20.2%
John Kasich 3.8%
I’m figuring even in Puerto Rico, Trump manages to get a quarter of the vote. He wants to build a wall, not a moat. Plus, Puerto Ricans are quite legal when in the U.S., be that on the mainland or anywhere else.
They’re suffering from an extreme fiscal crisis, and I’m sure the Apprentice was available for viewing on the island. It’s not like he has a name recognition problem here. It’s a primary, not a caucus. This would mark The Donald’s lowest result in a primary.
I’m figuring the lack of huge opposition to Trump (a speculative lack, mind you), will help Rubio against Cruz. If they aren’t overly determined to stop Trump, no need to strategically vote for Cruz en masse.
Between spending time in Puerto Rico, being tied to Florida, and emphasizing his Latino background far more than Cruz, Rubio should have a large advantage here, one strong enough to overcome yesterday’s results.
If I’m wrong, and Rubio fails to win here, he probably should take The Donald’s advice and get out of the race. At the moment, even with a modest amount of delegates, and little chance to reverse the immediate narrative, Puerto Rico is the last, best hope for the Rubio campaign.