Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., pauses while speaking at a rally, Feb. 21, 2016, in North Las Vegas, Nev.
Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP

Rubio faces cloudy skies in the Sunshine State

Last week, a top strategist for Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign boasted that the senator will, without a doubt, win the Florida primary in two weeks. “We are going to win Florida. Period,” the aide said. “Take it to the bank.”
Whether or not the confidence is misplaced is hard to say, but the fact that Rubio has to worry at all about success in his home state is itself cause for alarm among his party and media supporters.
Complicating matters, however, is that a Florida victory is not nearly as obvious as Team Rubio would like the public to believe. Recent polling shows the senator trailing Donald Trump in his home state by double digits, and the Associated Press reported yesterday that early voting also appears to favor the GOP frontrunner.
Absentee and early voting are popular in Florida. Projections show that more than half of those voting in the primary will have cast their ballots before the March 15 primary. So far, more than 303,000 Republican voters and more than 261,000 Democratic voters have submitted their absentee ballots, according to University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith, who is tracking statewide absentee ballot returns. […]
Smith said almost 44 percent of the absentee Republican votes so far are from people who did not vote in 2012.
The political scientist told the AP, “This might bode well for [Trump], as the competitive GOP primary appears to be drawing in a sizable number of Republicans – and absentee voters at that – who in previously primary contests have sat on the sidelines.”
Former Sen. Mel Martinez (R), who represented Florida before becoming the chairman of the Republican National Committee in the Bush/Cheney era, told the Wall Street Journal yesterday that while he supports Rubio, the senator is likely to lose his home state.
“It’s kind of cooked, Trump’s path to the nomination,” Martinez added.
Not surprisingly, Rubio and his staff are aware of the problem, and are taking steps to prevent a loss in Florida. NBC News’ Mark Murray noted last week that Rubio’s super PAC is spending nearly $6 million to boost the senator’s campaign, and nearly half of that total is being invested in Florida.
And who knows, maybe that will make a difference. I spoke to a Florida voter this week who told me she sees Rubio’s ads in heavy rotation every time she turns on the television.
But what does it say about the health of Rubio’s candidacy that he and his allies have to invest so heavily just to remain competitive in the one state that he should win easily?