Marco Rubio is leading Donald Trump in Florida 48% to 23% among the nearly 20% who have already cast their ballots. The new Monmouth University poll shows Donald Trump leading Marco Rubio 38 percent to 30 percent overall in the Sunshine State — but that’s not an insurmountable lead, considering polls in several states have overstated Donald Trump’s lead by double digits. Ted Cruz is in third place at 17 percent and John Kasich is fourth at 10 percent according to the poll.
Trump’s path to the nomination becomes difficult if he loses Florida’s primary on March 15 in which the plurality winner takes home all 99 delegates. Marco Rubio now appears to be the only candidate who has a decent chance of beating Trump there, and it’s not hard to see Rubio overcoming Trump’s single-digit lead if he does in fact have that many votes already banked and if he turns in a strong debate performance on Thursday night in Miami.
Complicating matters for Rubio, however, is the fact that Ted Cruz is also making a major play for Florida. The truce that the two senators appear to have struck to refrain from attacking each other during the last two debates would seem to be off the table as one of Cruz’s super PACs aims “to take out Marco Rubio in his home state of Florida.”
And the super PAC has prepared an array of new attack ads hitting Rubio — on sugar subsidies, on his tax plan, on amnesty and on national defense — with plans to air them in the Sunshine State.
“We had so much fun winning Sen. Cruz’s home state by 17 points, we thought why not repeat that in Sen. Rubio’s home state?” said Kellyanne Conway, the Republican strategist who heads Keep the Promise I, which created the ads. The group is funded mostly by $11 million from hedge fund magnate Robert Mercer, and had $2.75 million in the bank at the end of January.
The spots, which are 30 seconds long, were posted late Sunday to the YouTube channel of Keep The Promise I, one of the main pro-Cruz super PACs.
“They’ll be on the air, including if not especially in FL,” Conway said in an email.
According to CNN, Rubio is “bullish” on his odds of winning the Florida primary, “despite some advisers who are less hopeful and believe a loss there would damage him politically in both the short- and long-term.”
Publicly, the campaign is maintaining they are still a contender in this race, touting a Sunday win in Puerto Rico’s primary that delivered Rubio 23 delegates. But privately, the campaign is having a debate about whether he should remain in the mix — even for his home state of Florida’s primary.
“He doesn’t want to get killed in his home state,” one source familiar with the discussions said, noting “a poor showing would be a risk and hurt his political future.”
Alex Conant, Rubio’s communication director, said the report of such an internal debate is “100% false.”
“That is fiction,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.”
If Trump loses both Florida and Ohio, he would still have the lead, but his chances of winning the majority of delegates would become less likely and a contested convention in July would be all but guaranteed.
If Trump wins both Florida and Ohio, he will be in a very good position to secure the nomination.