We’re still three days from the Florida Primary, but it already deserves a post of its own. We haven’t yet had a contest that can have such a major influence on the Republican Primary. There’s a reason Thursday’s debate was in Miami. There’s a reason we’ve had 11 Republican polls released in thefive days. No state since Iowa and New Hampshire has received such thorough examination. Florida. Is. HUGE.
What’s with all the hubbub?
At this point, we care less about Marco Rubio saving his political career and more with his status as the open convention’s best hope to deny Florida’s 99 delegates to Donald Trump. I can’t overstate how big of a denial this would be. Florida is the largest winner-take-all state in the Republican Primary. (The only two larger states — California and Texas — are not winner-take-all. While each of California’s 53 districts are winner-take-all, as are the 13 at-large delegates, different candidates can win different districts.) Trump earning its 99 delegates might end up literally giving him just enough delegates by the time the primaries are over, or, at the very least, dim the efforts of Ted Cruz and the establishment (hereby claimed as a rock n’ roll band name) to block Trump from the nomination, allowing him to more easily reach a majority.
To illustrate, consider the latest primary standings according to Fox News. Below are delegate counts, including the percentage of the 1,040 delegates allocated thus far.
- Trump 459 (44%)
- Cruz 360 (35%)
- Rubio 152 (15%)
- Kasich 54 (5%)
- Other 15 (1%)
- There are 2,472 total possible delegates.
- Since 1,040 have been allocated already, there are still 1,432 delegates left to allocate.
- A candidate needs 1,237 delegates to achieve a majority.
- With all that in mind, here are the number and percent of remaining delegates the candidates need to get to 1,237:
- Trump 778 (54.3%)
- Cruz 877 (61.2%)
- Rubio 1,085 (75.8%)
- Kasich 1,183 (82.6%)
To understand Florida’s importance in Trump’s quest for a majority of delegates, let’s play with the numbers. If we give him Florida’s 99, that would bring him from 459 to 558 delegates. He would then need to win (1,237 – 558) delegates, or 679, of the remaining (1432 – 99) delegates, or 1,333, which is 50.9 percent, barely half. He’d be in great position, especially with Rubio out of the race.
IF, however, he loses Florida, he’d still need his 778 delegates out of the remaining 1,333, which is 58.4 percent.
That’s right — Florida alone can determine whether Trump needs to win 50.9 percent (with upward momentum) or 58.4 percent of remaining delegates (with downward momentum). That’s an enormous swing.
Now, let’s also consider that Ohio, also a winner-take-all state, votes that day, too, with 66 delegates at stake. Kasich has erased Trump’s lead and even came out in front in the most recent Ohio poll. He’s spending all his time there, reminding his state why they elected him governor in the first place. I love his chances. Let’s keep those delegates from Trump’s total while also removing them from the remaining pot. If he also loses Florida, he’d still need 778 more, but from only 1,267, or 61.4 percent, of remaining delegates.
You know what that is? That’s a BIG number for a guy who is not pulling away in national polling while also fighting the narrative that the party is resisting him. Moreover, Tuesday will also put us well past the half-way point of delegates for the primary. There will be fewer delegates ahead than behind, and Trump would need to win more than three of every five of them.
Ultimately, if we assume Kasich wins Ohio — and again, I love his chances there — then Florida could mean the difference between a Trump majority by June and almost assuredly a contested convention in July.
So how do we like Rubio’s chances to help make my Christmas wish come true? Wellll, not so much. Most of those 11 recent polls show Trump with double-digit leads. If we trust the few single-digit polls, that doesn’t sound totally insurmountable, but still, when the closest spread of any poll is 6, it’s hard to love the underdog’s position.
Unfortunately, in his quest to close the gap, Rubio doesn’t have much going for him. He had a bad Super Tuesday, a worse Junior Tuesday, and was shutout in the Saturday between. His string of third and fourth place finish with minimal delegate hauls has stalled out his campaign. The establishment has given up on him, with no new endorsements in the last nine days. He’s getting increasingly bad polling across the board. Most embarrassingly, at least from an optics perspective, he had rented out a stadium for a Florida rally, but the supporters who showed up could fit into one end zone:
This photograph epitomizes his uphill battle against a guy who has been packing stadiums since summer. Marco Rubio is a very lonely guy right now. Some wonder if he might even drop out before the Florida Primary, in order to “save his political career.” Reportedly, some of his own advisers have recommended as much. Then, a supposed leak said that donors have been told he will drop out before Tuesday if Florida polling doesn’t improve.
Things look pretty bad for Little Marco and PPFA’s big dreams.
However, him dropping out would be a mistake, and not just because I want him to stay in for my own reasons. Even around his darkest clouds, if you squint hard enough you can find a few faint, silver linings.
For one, Trump’s polling does seem to have crested. Consider polling trends compiled since Super Tuesday by Huff Pollster:
Two of the four most recent polls had Trump down to 36; he hadn’t been lower since a poll in mid-January and one in mid-December before that. Meanwhile, one of those two recent polls had Rubio up to 30, his high water mark since he declared, just six points behind Trump.
Secondly, there are the early voters I mentioned earlier this week. Monmouth’s most recent poll teased out early voters, which the pollster estimated would be one in five of all ballots cast in the Florida Primary. It found that Rubio had earned 48 percent of people who had already voted to Trump’s 23. Considering early birds might represent 20 percent of voters, that’s not an insignificant lead. Even if Rubio loses to Trump by a few points on primary day, this early voting lead could still hand Rubio the state. Plus, we have to remember that late deciders don’t break toward Trump; dating back to Iowa, they’ve broken to the other candidates. That makes Trump’s lead even more fragile.
Finally, I’m going against the grain here when I say that Rubio dropping out to avoid a Florida loss is actually not the way to save his political career. If he quits now, he walks out at rock bottom anyway. The last week has been a total embarrassment for his campaign. We won’t forget it. Whether he leaves tomorrow or loses the Florida Primary, it’s a political collapse rivaling Rick Perry and Howard Dean.
But you know what, those guys are doing fine today. Perry is still governor of Texas. Dean has an extremely successful run as DNC chair. Rubio is young, bright, and has a future. He’ll be fine, too. And if he does lose, his comeback narrative writes itself. He wasn’t doing it for himself; he was doing his part to stop Donald Trump. He was standing up for conservative, Republican principles, which is not a shameful way to go down.
And if he wins Florida . . . who knows? I’ve already established how Trump losing Florida drastically increases the chances for an open convention. Heading into one, Rubio would have at least 250 delegates and become very attractive as a VP candidate who can carry Florida and reach out to Latinos in other swing states like New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado. His career can continue. The reward is huge, and I don’t think the risk is that high at all.
So go get Florida, Senator! PPFA is counting on you.