Rubio Embraces Role of Underdog in Home State
A week before Florida's critical Republican primary, Marco Rubio made clear to supporters gathered in a Sarasota airport hangar just how important his home state is to his uphill presidential campaign.
“It all comes down to Florida. It always does,” Rubio told the crowd of just over 1,000 people Tuesday. “We have a lot of work to do here over the next seven days.”
The Florida senator won only two of the first 20 electoral contests of the nomination race so far, and trails billionaire front-runner Donald Trump by more than 200 delegates. Both Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz have called on Rubio to drop his bid as they make pushes into the state, which offers 99 delegates to the winner.
Rubio, who was urged to drop out of his 2010 senate race when he trailed former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, said he knows how to win under tough circumstances.
“I've always been the underdog,” Rubio said in Sarasota as he repeatedly hammered Trump as a false conservative. “I didn't inherit money and a Rolodex from my parents. There's nothing wrong with doing that, but my whole life I've had to scratch and claw and earn each and every step along the way. And we'll do that again.”
The most recent RealClearPolitics average of polls in Florida, however, shows Trump with a 16-point lead over Rubio.
Rubio's campaign spent valuable hours this week refuting a Monday report on CNN that claimed campaign officials were beginning to ponder the candidate's exit from the race and that one group was urging Rubio to pull out before Florida votes on March 15.
Alex Conant, a spokesman for Rubio, in a Monday appearance on CNN, called the story “utter nonsense” and said, “It is 100 percent absolutely false. I think CNN is doing a disservice to voters.”
In Florida on Tuesday, Rubio compared his current status as the underdog to the 2010 race that installed him in the Senate.
“This is what we have the chance to do here together. But it starts here in Florida. I've been here before, in this moment, at this time. Five years ago, I was a private citizen who saw our nation headed in the wrong direction,” Rubio said.
Republicans held primaries in Michigan, Mississippi, and Idaho on Tuesday, as well as caucuses in Hawaii. Rubio's campaign angrily accused the Cruz camp of “dirty tricks” over an e-mail to voters in Hawaii that suggested that Rubio would soon be dropping out of the race.
“Senator Cruz is up to his dirty tricks again spreading false rumors and lies. We won't allow him to do to Marco Rubio in Florida what he did to Ben Carson in Iowa,” Joe Pounder, a Rubio spokesman, said in a statement.
Cruz told Fox News' Megyn Kelly that the e-mail had been sent by a volunteer who is “not affiliated with the campaign,” but the incident is strikingly similar to what transpired in Iowa in February, when the Texas lawmaker's campaign was accused of telling caucus-goers that Ben Carson would drop out of the race a full month before he did.