For U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, it’s a tale of two presidential campaigns.
On one hand, Rubio has fallen to eighth place in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of the Republican field.
On the other hand, The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza just ranked Rubio the second most likely contender to win the GOP nomination, citing the “very good shape” of Rubio’s fundamentals.
On one hand, Rubio, combined with the funds raised by outside groups supporting him, has hauled in almost $44 million for his White House run.
On the other hand, the two largest donors to Rubio’s super PAC are Miami billionaire Norman Braman and Oracle founder Larry Ellison. Not that their money isn’t any good, it’s just that one of the reasons for Braman’s patronage of Rubio is his disgust with a veto by Jeb Bush of $2 million in state funds that had been allocated for the Braman Breast Cancer Institute.
According to POLITICO, Braman had established the center at the University of Miami two years earlier, after his wife’s sister was diagnosed with the disease, seeding it with $5 million of his own funds. As for the eccentric Ellison, yes he is a billionaire, but he’s not a dialed-in player like so many of Bush’s billionaire donors. Nor are Braman and Ellison the type of mega-rich donors who attract other mega-rich donors, like a Woody Johnson.
A week ago, this writer suggested that Rubio is in Bush’s way.
It was one thing for Bush and Rubio to both be running for president at the same time and it appeared as if they’d just flip a coin to decide who gets the GOP nomination. It’s another thing entirely when Bush is a decided underdog to Trump on a national level and to Scott Walker in Iowa.
To beat Trump and Walker, Bush needs every asset at his disposal. He needs every top Florida activist and donor. He needs a clear path to victory in South Carolina. He needs the Sunshine State to be his firewall.
I also suggested that Rubio is putting his political future (Florida governor in 2018?) on the line if he turns out to be one of the major reasons why Bush doesn’t win the GOP nomination.
These suggestions did not sit well with many Rubio supporters who said I made similar suggestions when Rubio was running against establishment-favorite Charlie Crist. (What they forget is that I also predicted as early as August of 2009 that Rubio would upset Crist.)
Turns out, I am not the only Florida political reporter who has noticed that Rubio is slumping. So, too, does the Tampa Bay Times’ Alex Leary, who today asks if Rubio should be concerned about the state of his campaign.
“Rubio’s camp is projecting a one-step-at-a-time outlook and is buoyed by the candidate’s fundraising,” Leary writes. “The question is, can Rubio sustain that, as Jeb Bush swallows up the money in Florida and the GOP field has grown to include John Kasich and other rivals? Trump will fade (right?) but he’s making life more difficult.”
I’ll go one step further and say it could get worse for Rubio.
As referenced above, he’s in eighth place in the most recent NBC News poll. These numbers come on top of Rubio’s seventh-place showing in an Economist/YouGov poll of the GOP presidential field, in an NBC News poll of Iowa Republicans, and an NBC News-Marist poll of New Hampshire Republicans.
Let’s assume — and this is a big assumption — that Rubio falls to eighth place in the aggregate of the national polls. The cut-off for Thursday’s GOP debate is 10th place. Rubio’s in no danger of missing the festivities in Cleveland.
But what about the next debate? And the one after that? I’m told the same Top 10 rule will be used for subsequent debates. Could Rubio fall out of the Top 10? To quote Vizzini from The Princess Bride, that inconceivable — or is it?
You have to assume that Ohio Gov. John Kasich, with his money, message, and momentum, will slip past Rubio, pushing the Floridian into ninth place. Then, assuming Rubio doesn’t rise, Chris Christie and Rick Perry would have to leapfrog Marco to knock him off the stage. Is this likely to happen? Probably not, but it’s certainly possible. If Trump implodes, there will be a period where Christie gobbles up some of his support before Trump falls out of/leaves the race. Christie is definitely going to get a second look from Republican primary voters. As for Perry, it’s hard to believe his star can outshine Rubio, but stranger things have happened.
Heck, there’s even a poll out of Iowa (albeit one from Gravis) that has Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in fourth place in Iowa. Were he to catch fire, that also could be very bad news for Rubio.
Imagine Rubio having to limp back to Miami after being left out of a presidential debate.
It’s almost inexplicable, given Rubio’s fundraising, his personal biography, and his ambition, that he is performing so poorly in the polls. As Leary notes, Rubio’s favorability with Republican primary voters is one of the best net-numbers in the field. He’s also almost every voters’ second choice if their favorite horse falters.
My theory is that Rubio’s message is too one-dimensional. It’s American Exceptionalism or bust. We get it Marco, you’re the son of a bartender (me too, that’s one of the reasons why I’ve always liked you), but what’s the follow-up? Rubio could get away with repeating the same speech at Lincoln Day Dinners in Florida; he can’t do the same thing on the presidential trail in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
Consider this: Why was it Bush who received the positive press for using Uber on his way to a San Francisco start-up, when it’s Rubio who has been one of, if not the, most out-spoken advocates on Capitol Hill for the ride-sharing company?
I hate to keep dogging a fellow Floridian’s chances of winning the White House, but Rubio’s campaign really needs a Five-Hour Energy Shot.