Finally, Marco Rubio may be making his move.
Friends and supporters of the Florida senator and GOP presidential hopeful have long worried that his campaign strategy seemed curiously passive. He wasn’t focusing money and personal appearances on any particular early voting state. Instead, Senator Rubio seemed content to let the other candidates mix things while he slowly built momentum, or tried to.
That might have been a misreading of Rubio’s intentions. It’s possible instead that his big worry was timing his efforts in Iowa and New Hampshire. You can peak too soon in primary politics, leaving you exposed to negative attacks from aggrieved rivals. Look what’s happening to Ted Cruz at the moment: the Texas senator, who leads in Iowa polls, is getting hammered by Donald Trump and others on the somewhat bogus question of whether he (Senator Cruz) is a natural-born citizen eligible for the presidency.
Meanwhile, Rubio has turned the dial on his own Iowa efforts up to “11.” He’s campaigned in the state four of the last five weeks. And he’s trying to dominate Iowa’s airwaves until the state’s Feb. 1 caucuses. Rubio’s campaign and a super political action committee that supports him are planning to run about one-third of all political ads scheduled in Iowa in coming weeks, according to a Des Moines Register analysis.
“For Rubio, who is in third place in Iowa with 12.6 percent support here, according to RealClearPolitics’ rolling average, being on TV could help keep him on the minds of voters and of the pundits who control the news cycle,” write Brianne Pfannenstiel and Jeffrey C. Kummer of the Register.
Rubio’s task in Iowa is made easier by the fact that he probably does not have to win or even place second to meet the punditocracy’s electoral expectations. Cruz, the current Iowa front-runner, is a favorite of the state’s many conservative evangelical voters. The phenomenon of Trump is currently runner-up.
But Rubio may not be able to afford a fourth-place Hawkeye State finish. And he’d love to sneak up on Cruz by appealing to the nonevangelical conservative votes concentrated in Iowa’s urban areas.
In New Hampshire, Trump’s the front-runner, with 31 percent of the vote, according to RCP. Rubio is second, at 13 percent. But the Granite State is becoming more competitive, with Cruz and Jeb Bush trailing Rubio by only a few percentage points. Again, Rubio may not have to win here to gain momentum. But losing to Mr. Bush – or even a suddenly surging Ohio Gov. John Kasich – might prove fatal to the Floridian’s hope of becoming the establishment Republican alternative to Trump or Cruz.
One method Rubio is trying to convey momentum to the nation is using January as the month to rollout announcements of endorsements and other pledges of support. Some may be new; some may have been saved for the right moment.
“Presidential contender Marco Rubio is flooding the zone with endorsements and grassroots coalitions after keeping their existence under wraps for months,” writes David M. Drucker in The Washington Examiner.
Last Friday alone, Rubio announced an “expanded” leadership team in North Carolina, the backing of Iowa agricultural leaders, and pledges of support from 150 grass-roots leaders in South Carolina, notes Mr. Drucker.