In recent conversations with nearly a dozen unaffiliated Iowa GOP veterans, a consensus has emerged across the party's ideological spectrum: The state's caucus-goers are interested in Rubio, but his infrequent appearances and paltry field operation leave lingering doubts as to whether he is interested in them. "It doesn't seem like he really wants to win Iowa," says Craig Robinson, the state party's former executive director, who is now editor of The Iowa Republican. "Of all the campaigns, he's probably done the least of getting around the state. There are plenty of people who would love to vote for him.... But I hear more excitement on the ground in Iowa about Chris Christie than I do about Marco Rubio. And it shouldn't be that way."
A few months ago, Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) habit of skipping work became a topic of conversation in the Republican presidential race. The Florida senator, more than any of his congressional colleagues, had effectively given up on actually being a senator, prompting some -- including many in his home state -- to suggest Rubio give up his seat to focus on his national campaign.
Soon after, the story fizzled, in large part because the Republican had a credible response to the criticism: senators who run for president always miss a lot of work because they need to spend so much time on the campaign trail, especially in states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
And while that's a compelling explanation on the surface, in Rubio's case, there's a slight problem: he's largely ignoring his day job and he's not spending much time in the early nominating states. As Rachel noted on the show last night, National Review published an interesting piece yesterday out of Iowa:
Perhaps the senator is focused more heavily on New Hampshire? Nope. Last week, Rubio hosted his 12th event in the Granite State -- far fewer than the number of events hosted by Jeb Bush (32), Chris Christie (51), Carly Fiorina (40), Lindsey Graham (60), John Kasich (38), George Pataki (34), and fewer than Rand Paul (24), Ted Cruz (16), and Donald Trump (16).
The Boston Globe reported last week, "[U]nderneath the buzz, GOP activists in New Hampshire are grumbling that Rubio has fewer staff members and endorsements than most of his main rivals and has made fewer campaign appearances in the state, where voters are accustomed to face-to-face contact with presidential contenders."
Perhaps the senator is more focused on South Carolina? It's possible, but as recently as late October, The State newspaper in Columbia noted that the Rubio campaign hadn't even opened an office in the Palmetto State.
So, Rubio isn't spending time doing his day job, and he isn't a ubiquitous presence in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Perhaps it's time to wonder what the senator does all day?
At this point, it appears the senator and his team are counting on a non-traditional approach in which Rubio reaches voters in those early states through campaign commercials, rather than a bunch of in-person campaign appearances. What's more, the senator continues to maintain a strong presence in conservative media, most notably Fox News, where Rubio benefits from quite a bit of free airtime.
And who knows, maybe as voting draws closer, the Floridian will shift gears and be a near-constant presence in the early nominating states, hoping to make up for lost time. At least for now, however, Rubio is taking a risk, gambling that campaign ads and fawning media buzz will fuel his White House bid.