If Nevada Is Rubio’s Firewall, Will It Be Too Little Too Late?

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

There’s a chance the promising primary campaign of Marco Rubio and his “New American Century” may sputter before it ever ignites.

Elaina Plott writes in National Review:

Marco Rubio is going all in to win Nevada.

Though the Florida senator has eschewed the idea that he needs to hunker down in any particular state, his campaign has quietly and steadily poured resources into the Silver State, where chaos and dismal turnout rule the caucuses. Rumors of the Rubio campaign’s weak ground game in Iowa and New Hampshire have led many to conclude that his strategists don’t believe he needs an early-state victory to remain competitive as the primary season moves into March…

It’s obvious that his campaign sees Nevada as his firewall.

Will Rubio’s “Waiting for Nevada” be the 2016 rewrite of Rudy Giuliani’s “Waiting for Florida,” itself a one-act political parody of Beckett’s absurdist “Waiting for Godot”? Before the first delegate has been pledged, this primary season has proved to be anything but conventional. But common sense would suggest no matter the cycle, sitting in third or fourth place and spotting your opponents a three-goal lead is either a sign of grand confidence or a kind of sling shot desperation.

Plott notes that Nevada is Rubio’s to lose:

Few candidates have invested resources in the state, and Rubio has benefited.

With the ability to make inroads in the Mormon community and in Las Vegas, where he lived until he was in eighth grade, and with a campaign strategy centered on caucus training and voter turnout, Rubio is positioned for a strong showing on February 23.

But Plott also suggests a growing Cruz network there could foil Rubio’s Nevada gambit:

Cruz has now staffed up in all 17 counties and is the only candidate with campaign chairmen in each. When Rubio set off for Iowa immediately after Tuesday’s debate in Las Vegas, Cruz stayed behind, hosting a rally in the ballroom where Rubio had gathered supporters two months earlier.

By the time Nevada votes, could momentum for a still surging Ted Cruz or a still surprising Donald Trump be overcome by a single Rubio victory in Nevada? The two single largest issues in Nevada are the economy and immigration, neither of which currently favors Rubio over Trump. And a Rubio victory in Nevada is by now no means assured given the methodical organization and mobilization evidenced by the Cruz campaign:

“If Cruz starts running an operation like Rubio’s out here, it’s going to be interesting to watch,” says Erik Jimenez, legislative specialist at Argentum Partners, a lobbying firm in Reno. “Rubio takes Nevada personally. This is his shot to win an early primary. . . . If Cruz can catch up, it’s difficult to know where he goes from there.”

If Rubio survives Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina with third or fourth place finishes in all, the pressure for Rubio to plant a flag with a Nevada win increases, especially staring down Super Tuesday two weeks later. Should he finish a poor second or third to Trump and/or Cruz, his campaign may be finished. However, if he beats expectations and posts a Silver State victory (and no margin will be too small) he can still make the Super Tuesday case to supporters and donors alike.

Clint Cline is the president of Design4, a national media and messaging firm based in Florida.