Donald Trump Has Clear Edge in Florida

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during a South Carolina Republican primary night event in Spartanburg, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. Trump claimed a big victory in South Carolina's Republican primary Saturday, deepening his hold on the party's presidential field as the contest moved into the South. …
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

At least six fresh public polls of the Republican race in Florida are giving pundits a better picture of the Sunshine State. Combine these fragmented reports of “internal polls” and the Florida race may be the most polled contest since Iowa or New Hampshire.

While the exact margins do vary, the race in Florida heads into the final days with Trump firmly in command, looking likely to capture the state’s 99 delegates.

The most recent polls put Trump’s lead anywhere from 23 to 6 points. Even allowing for the margins of error in polls, that is a very large range. Trump, though, has maintained a strong lead in the state since September. It isn’t unexpected that his lead would shrink as election day nears.

As we have seen in this election, primaries can be difficult to poll with anything like the certainty of a general election. A much smaller subset of the population votes in primaries compared with generals, so estimating the makeup of the electorate is more of an art than a science.

So, rather than simply rely on any specific or even basket of polls, it is perhaps better to step back a bit and consider what we do know about the state of the race today.

Florida is a closed primary state, i.e. only registered Republicans can vote on March 15. Trump has done best in states where primaries are open to all voters to participate. He has fared worse in states were only Republicans can vote.

Trump’s share of the vote in Florida has been consistent since November. In virtually every poll since then, Trump’s support in the state has been in the mid-high 30s. His support in Florida hasn’t really grown, but it hasn’t eroded either.

At the beginning of the year, Marco Rubio was polling in third place in Florida. Since Jeb Bush’s exit from the Presidential contest at the end of February, Marco has moved into second place, although Ted Cruz has remained a very close third.

Since Bush’s exit from the race, Rubio’s support has been in the mid-20s in Florida. His general weakness in his home state is itself testament to the struggles he has faced in the campaign. There are few signs in the polls that he is poaching support from the other candidates in the race.

Rubio’s campaign and his affiliated Super PACs are pouring millions of dollars in advertising into Florida in the final days of the campaign. It is estimated that Rubio world will spend well over $10 million in Florida, an enormous amount for such a short period of time.

Trump’s campaign has responded with its own roughly $2 million in advertising, which is more than the frontrunner’s campaign has spent in any single state so far. Trump’s spots are positive, designed primarily to hold onto the support he has.

Rubio’s spending in the state points to the fundamental challenge his campaign faces. One Rubio super PAC is spending considerable funds attacking Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is barely contesting Florida. Kasich barely cracks double-digits in polls, but Rubio needs to capture as many anti-Trump votes as possible.

Rubio cannot win Florida by simply winning over all the undecided voters. There simply aren’t enough of them at this stage. Rubio must convince a sizable number of voters currently supporting Ted Cruz or John Kasich to switch over to him if he has any chance of winning Florida.

Trump’s support in Florida, and most other states, is rock-solid. His support isn’t enough to win a majority outright, but in a multi-candidate field, it is enough to win.

A small number of Republican voters in Florida may make a strategic calculation and vote for Rubio simply because he has the best chance of defeating Trump. Most voters, however, do not consider their vote a piece on a chess board.

Rubio will likely pick up a few points of support, however, as some weaker supporters of Cruz and Kasich decide in the end to support Rubio as a means of blocking Trump. It isn’t likely to be enough to lift Rubio to victory, but it will narrow the gap between Trump and Rubio.

Rubio will also gain some support by having the only campaign devoting almost all of its resources in Florida. Donald Trump is campaigning in Ohio through the weekend, while the other two candidates are also campaigning elsewhere.

While one should be hesitant to vote against a candidate in their home state, there is very little to suggest that Rubio will be able eke out a win on Tuesday. A home state candidate should not be in the position of winning back support that has already moved to other candidates. That Rubio is in this position speaks volumes about the weakness of his campaign.

It is interesting to note that last year, Florida Republicans moved up their presidential primary and chose to make it a winner-take-all contest. This was an admitted play to help either Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio for their expected runs for the White House.

It was a move designed to lift a Florida candidate closer to the nomination. It is a decision that, in the end, will likely kill off their campaign.