Sen. Marco Rubio appeared in Tampa tonight ready to fight, amid news reports that some advisors are urging him to exit the race prior to the March 15 primary.
“Florida. I am asking Florida to do what Florida always does. Decide the nomination and decide the presidency, so we can win this election,” he said to a crowd of supporters in his home state.
They cheered wildly as their Senator kicked off a strong but desperate effort to save his campaign by winning his home state.
Rubio’s luck has worsened. After struggling with losing his voice on Super Tuesday, his debate performance was hampered after he got the flu. That extended into his CPAC appearance followed by a series of losses to Cruz and Trump on Saturday.
Polls are also showing Rubio down significantly against billionaire candidate Donald Trump. Pundits began the week proclaiming his campaign doomed, while some advised that the Florida Senator drop out of the presidential race before getting beaten in Florida by Trump.
But Rubio’s speech made it clear that he had no intention of skipping his home state. His message appeared particularly attuned to Florida voters, reminding them that he was the son of immigrants who believed in the American Dream rather than a child of privilege.
“It’s not just my story, it’s our story. Especially in Florida, especially here where so many people, almost all of us here are but a generation removed from a story not unlike mine,” he said.
He reminded the audience of the death of Nancy Reagan and the Reagan legacy left behind.
“Yesterday we got the news that Nancy Reagan had passed away, and we are very saddened by her loss,” Rubio said, recalling a speech he gave at the invitation of the former First Lady in 2011.
He shared the experience of speaking with Reagan, who told him that her husband, Ronald Reagan, sent flowers to her mother thanking her for giving birth to Nancy. Rubio joked that his wife asked him why he never did that for her mother.
“He was an amazing man,” Rubio continued. “Ronald Reagan reminded us of what conservatism was at it’s best.”
Rubio tried to appear above the childish political fray that he started weeks ago, calling into questions the quality of Donald Trump’s spray tan, his bladder control, and the size of his manhood.
He pointed out that his campaign was a campaign of ideas, not the ”outrage, bad words, and profanity” that the media focused on.
Behind him, voters held up signs that read “Keep Calm Vote Rubio,” but behind the scenes, advisors scrambled to respond to a CNN story citing advisors close to and within the campaign that were urging Rubio to drop out of the campaign before Florida.
Rubio’s aides were quick to react, telling reporters that the story was ”journalistic malpractice,” ”so full of shit,” and “completely made up,” while an outraged Alex Conant appeared on CNN to trash their reporting.
“There is no way he is getting out of the race before Florida or after Florida,” Conant asserted, saying that there was “absolutely” a path to victory for Marco Rubio.
Conant personally attacked CNN’s Jamie Gangel who reported the story, complaining that the network failed to reach out to the campaign for comment.
“I’m going to ask you to stop reading that sort of fiction on air, because it is not true at all,” he said to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Conant revealed on the program that he came “racing across town” just to appear on CNN to discount the story.
Conant insisted that Rubio was prepared to campaign beyond Florida, and into the rest of the 50 states, just to stop Donald Trump from earning enough delegates to win. The campaign, he argued, would gain momentum after winning big in Florida and carrying them to victory.
“Not only is he getting out of the race before Florida, he’s not getting out of the race after Florida,” he said. “We’re going to win Florida.”