Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio isn’t going to win in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina. In those states, Rubio is far behind billionaire Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
And according to Rubio’s campaign, that’s all apart of the plan.
Knowing he’s performing poorly in those three states, Rubio has hatched a strategy to take an unconventional trip to the White House. It involves flying under the radar, and it involves biding time to gather political allies.
Rubio’s campaign is betting the Florida junior senator has enough support to wait out the initial states and stay relevant, without being the subject to attacks by other candidates.
If he’s able to get frontrunners Trump and Cruz to bash each other to bits, Rubio looks to gradually consolidate moderate supporters from struggling campaigns like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Then, with mainstream help, the plan says he’ll be poised to storm through the later voting states after Cruz and Trump have weakened each other with constant attacks.
Under pressure to emerge as the Republican mainstream’s presidential contender, Rubio is instead relying on this national strategy and seeking to lower expectations for February’s primary contests.
He’s betting big that Republican voters across the political spectrum will ultimately coalesce behind his candidacy in the state-by-state slog for delegates his team envisions for the months ahead.
It’s a strategy fraught with risk for Rubio, who’s still fighting to break out among the pack of candidates looking up at Trump and Cruz. The outsider favorites are dominating in Iowa less than two weeks before the state’s leadoff caucuses.
No Republican in the modern political era has won the presidential nomination without winning one of the first three states. Rubio’s team sees a path around that history: finishing in the top three in those states and surviving until March. That’s when party insiders expect the race to become a long haul because of new rules that award delegates proportionally.
The strategy also assumes some of Rubio’s mainstream challengers will drop out, leaving Rubio’s mix of messages — his tea party rise, national security background and abiding conservative social positions — to allow him to unify the GOP.
“Any preconceived notions you have from previous cycles are out the window,” said California-based donor John Jordan, who is running a pro-Rubio super PAC. “Given that, I don’t think it’s necessary to win one of the early states.” He calls this “a rolling national election.”
Rubio’s team describes his message not as scattered, but as based on Ronald Reagan’s “three-legged stool” with conservative approaches to economic, social and national security policy.
Rubio emphasized his religious faith in Iowa, where he’s running an ad highlighting his opposition to abortion rights and where he told voters in the more socially conservative northern part of the state that his Christianity is “the single greatest influence in my life.”
In more moderate eastern Iowa, Rubio asserted his credentials on military and foreign policy as unmatched in the field. “It’s not even close,” he said.
And the 44-year-old son of Cuban immigrants pressed the point in Ottumwa that he can bring people into the party who normally don’t vote for it.
“We have some differences,” Rubio said of the candidates in the field. “But it’s a big tent.”
Yet when asked why he was more electable than Trump, he nodded to the raucous throngs that have flocked to Trump’s rallies.
“What he’s tapped into is a real frustration that needs to be addressed,” Rubio said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article