Although he placed third in Iowa, Florida senator Marco Rubio may end up benefiting the most from the first presidential voting contest. The Republican was practically declared the winner by many news media and is now picking up more endorsements.
Rubio’s campaign successfully downplayed expectations before the caucuses with the candidate himself telling reporters that his fellow senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, was surely the frontrunner.
Cruz indeed won, but Rubio nearly bested property tycoon Donald Trump for second place, allowing him — and his many well-wishers in the press — to declare that he had “exceeded expectations” (the ones they themselves had set).
That, in turn, is giving Rubio “momentum” going into the next voting contest: New Hampshire.
It sounds a little silly, but such perceptions do matter.
FiveThirtyEight reports that Rubio has overtaken Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, in terms of endorsements from congressmen, governors and senators. (The website doesn’t track support from state-level and party officials.)
Rubio’s lead is narrow, though, and the bigger story of this year’s “endorsement primary” is that the Republican Party as a whole has yet to rally around a single candidate.
“Out of 796 potential endorsement points, 223, or 28 percent, have been awarded,” according to FiveThirtyEight.
Taking their cue
Jonathan Bernstein cautions at Bloomberg View that party actors do not simply follow Iowa voters. “If they did,” he points out, “they would have supported Ted Cruz this time and Mike Huckabee in 2008.”
But they do use the early voting to help decide which of the candidates is most electable.
If Rubio wins this time, especially if he wins convincingly after a rush of endorsements, it will be strong confirming evidence that the parties do choose nominees and use the primaries and caucuses for information-gathering role.
This website is skeptical that Rubio is the best candidate to challenge Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in November.
As we wrote last week, the central premise of Rubio’s candidacy is that he can bring more Latino and young voters into the Republican Party. But the polling simply does not bear this out. Nor do his capitulation on immigration reform and his hardline positions on social issues and foreign policy suggest he could easily change his numbers.
That is not to say he won’t be the nominee. Rubio is certainly more electable than Cruz and Trump (in the land of the blind…) and there is something to be said for the argument that he can bridge the gap between the moderately conservative wing of the party and the more reactionary “Tea Party” faction which after all helped elect him to the Senate in 2010.
We’ll know more once New Hampshire has voted next week.