I think everyone but the most rabid Marco Rubio fans realize that if Rubio doesn’t win Florida he is basically finished as a credible candidate. People can spin all the yarns they want to about states “tailor made” for Rubio and “lanes” and why Cruz can’t win, but the fact remains is that there is exactly, precisely one state in the union that has demonstrated it is “tailor made” for Rubio because he was elected there. That state is Florida. The Rubio campaign is claiming everything is fine, but that assessment is open to interpretation. Via Politico:
Rubio’s team dismissed concerns that it hasn’t done enough to set up for the Florida fight, with officials saying they just this week began shifting the operation into high gear.
On Sunday, surrogates including U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo started phoning voters with pre-recorded messages. On Monday, volunteers began phone-banking specially identified voters. On Super Tuesday, Rubio made his election-night appearance in Miami to underscore the state’s importance. And on Thursday night, the campaign robo-called absentee-ballot requesters with a pre-recorded message from Rubio’s wife, Jeannette.
The campaign brought down 20 paid staffers this week and will have 14 more by Saturday, after which Rubio will be in the state almost daily — often in the swing area known as the I-4 Corridor that stretches from Tampa Bay to Orlando to Daytona Beach. The campaign also says it’s activating county chairs and friendly legislators who have political networks that will help get-out-the-vote operations.
Not everyone agrees.
According to Republican consultants and political observers from Tallahassee to Orlando to Tampa to Miami, there’s virtually no evidence that Rubio has the robust campaign in place that’s needed to shrink — let alone overcome — Trump’s lead, which ranges from 7 to 20 percentage points, depending on the poll. For weeks, his team hasn’t blanketed known early voters with mail, and they weren’t calling Republicans statewide until just a few days ago.
Rubio’s campaign said it held off on aggressively targeting absentee-ballot voters when Bush was still in the race because the two candidates shared voters with a similar profile. Rubio didn’t want to spend the money accidentally turning out Bush voters. But, as a result, that meant the campaign left the votes up to chance as thousands of absentee ballots poured in.
This means that many of the votes that will be counted on March 15 were cast before Rubio started to look stronger.
Rubio is also lagging on media buys.
No Florida candidate in modern times has been able to rely heavily on earned media from news events. Airtime in the state’s 10 major media markets is a must. And it’s expensive: about $1.5 million for a statewide weeklong buy for a candidate and $3 million to $5 million for a political committee.
Trump has announced a nearly $1 million TV buy for Florida. Rubio has made no such announcement, increasing the likelihood that he’ll have to rely on outside committees, which could cost as much as $10 million over two weeks. So far, the three political committees advertising in Florida are on pace to spend about half of what is probably needed. And two of the committees are anti-Trump only, which is of limited to use to Rubio.
What makes the picture worse is that we have an idea of what will happen in north Florida and the Florida Panhandle. Media markets, aka designated market areas aka DMA, are how you buy ads and DMA is how most major marketers decide goods and services to offer.
Rubio’s weakest point can be spotted on a map: rural North Florida. On Super Tuesday, Rubio was slaughtered by Trump in the one Alabama and two Georgia media markets that broadcast into Florida’s Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Pensacola areas. Trump won about 45 percent support in Thomasville-Tallahassee and in Brunswick-Jacksonville, where Rubio carried only 17 percent and 18 percent of the vote, respectively — third behind Cruz, according to an analysis from Florida-based MCI Maps. In the Mobile-Pensacola market, Trump won 47 percent of the vote while Cruz and Rubio tied at 19 percent.
Matthew Isbell, a Democratic data consultant with MCI Maps who analyzed the Georgia and Alabama results, said Rubio likely won’t lose as badly in some parts of North Florida because he’s better known in his home state and Republican voters in the suburban and urban areas of the big cities appear to be more Rubio leaning.
But the rural areas won’t be kind to Rubio, he said.
Also, the Bush factor looms large:
Rubio’s Super Tuesday appearance in Miami-Dade underscored the importance of the county to him. It’s Florida’s most-populous, with 354,000 Republicans, and more than 73 percent of them are Hispanic — nearly all of Cuban descent, like Rubio. Establishment Republicans remember how the county played a key role in giving Mel Martinez a 100,000-vote margin to beat Bill McCollum in the 2004 primary for U.S. Senate, a seat Rubio now occupies. Rubio backers hope for a repeat.
The strength of Miami-Dade’s Republican Party is no accident. One man gets outsize credit: Bush. And among older GOP voters — among the most reliable voters — he’s still well-liked. His refusal to endorse Rubio so far has unsettled some Republicans.
I’m not an authority on Florida elections and how you read this story is pretty much up to you. On the one hand you have the Rubio campaign, which tweeted on the afternoon of Super Tuesday that it could win four states, saying everything is fine. On the other hand you have consultants slamming other consultants. The critiques could be accurate, or they could be sour grapes, or they could be pitching deals to do a better job than the incumbent. To me two things are obvious. First, Rubio is going to get thrashed in north Florida and the presence of Ted Cruz to draw votes away from Trump is a big help to any hope Rubio has of winning Florida. Second, Rubio is going to have get on the air in a big way if he is to pull this out. Right now the heavy lifting is being done by Our Principles PAC and Club For Growth. Both of those can hammer Trump but neither can advocate for Rubio.
A new poll shows Rubio within striking distance of Trump. It was conducted by an anti-Trump PAC which hasn’t released either the questions or crosstabs — so it is just as easily disinformation as polliong. If it is real, then perhaps Rubio has a chance.