Polls: Donald Trump trouncing Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida
MIAMI -- Trounces. Crushes. Pummels.
Pick a dramatic action verb: This is what Donald Trump does to Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida, according to a new presidential poll that shows Trump is more popular than he's ever been in Rubio's home state.
The survey, by Quinnipiac University, shows Trump leading Rubio 44-to-28 percent less than three weeks before Florida's March 15 primary. And voters -- tens of thousands of them -- are already casting ballots by mail, which leaves Rubio little time to make up the deficit against the Republican front-runner.
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"If Sen. Rubio can't win in his own home state, it is difficult to see how he can win elsewhere," said a statement from Peter A. Brown, the poll's assistant director.
Florida's winner-take-all primary awards all 99 delegates to the first-place candidate, making it one the biggest single prizes early on in the race to secure the Republican nomination.
Rubio adviser Todd Harris rebuffed the poll, saying Quinnipiac numbers are "way wrong."
"We are going to win Florida. Period. Take it to the bank," he wrote on Twitter.
Rubio himself predicted Wednesday: "We'll win in Florida."
A second poll Thursday tempered the Quinnipiac results somewhat. The leaked survey, by Associated Industries of Florida -- one of the business lobbies in the state -- shows Trump leading Rubio 34 percent to 27 percent.
Both polls found Rubio drawing about the same amount of support. They differed on Trump's popularity, but not on what lies beneath it: Trump leads among men in both polls, and also among voters who want a strong leader, or one with a strong national defense platform.
Trump's popularity in the surveys hinges on who got polled and who will turn out to vote.
Quinnipiac lets respondents self-identify if they're likely to vote, while AIF picks likely voters based on their past voter history. Florida closes off its primaries to independents and doesn't allow same-day voter registration, unlike in some early states that saw unusually high turnout, which probably helped Trump.
The error margins were plus or minus 3.7 percentage points for the Quinnipiac poll, and 4 percentage points for AIF's.
Quinnipiac's Brown noted Florida's closed primaries make it more "uncertain" for Trump.
"Only registered Republicans may vote here, which raises the question of whether the flood of new voters Donald Trump seemed to bring to earlier contests will be able to participate in Florida," he wrote.
Rubio wants to be the GOP's Trump alternative. Before he can take him on one on one, he'd need rivals such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson to get out of the race. And why would they, when Rubio looks far from being able to hold his own state?
The Quinnipiac poll showed Cruz drawing 12 percent of the vote; Kasich, 7 percent; and Carson, 4 percent. The survey was the first conducted since former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush dropped out of the race Saturday.
Trump's popularity has shot up since the last Quinnipiac poll in Florida, in October. Back then, Trump won 28 percent, followed by Carson (16 percent), Rubio (14 percent) and Bush (12 percent). Rubio's own support has doubled, but he's still behind by 16 percentage points.
Whether Bush will try to give his friend Rubio a boost by endorsing him before the Florida primary remains an open question. His advisers are split on what Bush should do: back Rubio for the good of the Republican Party, or stay out of it because Bush's support is unlikely to help Rubio enough to leapfrog Trump.
Bush would back Rubio if his endorsement could clinch Florida and help the GOP, according to Jorge Arrizurieta, who chaired Bush's Miami-Dade County campaign.
It doesn't look likely, and hard feelings remain among Bush's supporters, at least.
"Marco Rubio was immensely disloyal," Arrizurieta said. "Trump is sure as hell looking like the presumed nominee. I don't see that endorsement taking place."
Bush, who's been spotted this week back at the Biltmore Hotel gym, told financial donors in a thank-you call Wednesday he'd work to elect a "conservative" -- but didn't name a candidate.
So many states vote before March 15 -- nearly 1,000 delegates are up for grabs -- that Rubio's campaign hopes the Florida senator picks up enough support to edge Cruz. That might put Rubio on an upward trajectory coming into Florida, where voters like to pick national winners.
Of concern to Rubio backers is his campaign hasn't spent enough in Florida chasing absentee ballots, which is how Republicans tend to give themselves a cushion before Election Day. The super PAC aiding Rubio, Conservative Solutions, said it will start airing TV ads in Florida and a handful of other states beginning Friday.
Trump's other rivals face similar -- if not quite as huge -- challenges in their own states.
Texas votes Tuesday. Recent polls show Cruz ahead of Trump, though Cruz's campaign has hedged a bit on whether the senator can pull off a victory.
"We are feeling good about Texas," Cruz spokeswoman Alice Stewart told Fox News on Wednesday, after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott endorsed Cruz. (Florida Gov. Rick Scott sounds partial to Trump.) "A lot will happen. ... It's about turning out the base, turning out the voters, having Greg Abbott and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry on the campaign trail with us next week."
Kasich's state of Ohio votes the same day as Florida. Despite pressure to bow out and let Rubio take the mantle of the more moderate Republican establishment, Kasich has insisted he'll stay in the race.
His campaign blasted out a statement to reporters minutes after the Quinnipiac poll came out, saying the survey previews "a certain death knell" for Rubio's candidacy.
"It is now clear," Kasich spokesman Trent Duffy said in the statement. "John Kasich is the only Republican who can stop Donald Trump."
The irony: Kasich also trails Trump in his own state, by 5 percentage points, according to a Quinnipiac Ohio poll published Tuesday.
That's a smaller margin than what Rubio's losing by, though -- something Kasich's team has bragged about almost as if it were a win in and of itself.