Ross Douthat predicts (‘gingerly’) that Marco Rubio will be the Republican nominee. I don’t try to predict these things (I think it’s up to the candidates and their teams, and I don’t think anyone can really know the relevant variables at this point), but one interesting point in his article is
It’s also easier to imagine [Rubio] winning a national primary than it is to figure out which early state he’ll win: He’s a little too moderate for Iowa, a little too conservative for New Hampshire, perhaps not quite combative enough for South Carolina … and so he might end up in the Rudy Giuliani-esque position of banking on his native Florida.
One small problem. Florida is no longer an early primary state. Douthat seems to be thinking in terms of the 2012 (2008) primaries, where Florida was 4th.
This time, Florida is on March 15th, which would make it (currently, things are still in flux) tied for 27th on the Republican primary calendar.
If Rubio doesn’t win until Florida, but then somehow goes on to win the nomination, we might be looking at a convention nominating process. If you take Douthat to be implying Florida will be first and he won’t win another state on the same day, add another 4 states.
That would mean Rubio would have to win the nomination while losing Ohio, North Carolina, Missouri, Illinois, Mississippi, Michigan, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Louisiana, Kentucky, Kansas, Wyoming, Virginia, Vermont, Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Georgia, Colorado, Arkansas, Alaska, Alabama, South Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Iowa – 30 states, all before or simultaneous with his first win in Florida.
I think Rubio will have to look for an earlier win than that. If it’s not the first four (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada), then it would have to be one or more (and I think it would actually have to be multiple) on March 1st. That means one or more of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.
Considerable interest has focused on polling in Florida on the Republican side, but I think this is because it is the home state of two prominent candidates – Bush and Rubio. It’s not because it’s an early, decisive state. Florida is a big state, with lots of potential delegates, but even there it shares March 15th with other large states – in particular Ohio, which is also typically considered a battleground ‘must win’ state for Republicans in the general. So it’s not even clear if press coverage will be on who wins Florida the day of, unless Rubio and Bush both lose there. If Rubio can’t win there, I imagine people saying, where can he win?
Instead of Florida as the key state Rubio can win to begin an upward trajectory towards the nomination, my guess is that its importance lies in that a Florida loss would end Rubio’s candidacy. Put another way, my guess is that Rubio has to win Florida (or come a close second, perhaps) just to keep in the game, more or less the opposite of what Douthat is claiming.