Editors' pick: Originally published March 15.
Rubio dropped out of the presidential race after losing the Florida Republican primary Tuesday. And despite sporadic talk of "Marcomomentum" throughout his sputtering White House bid, he's had no chance the whole way.
The freshman senator from Florida headed into his home state's primary today facing near-impossible odds at pulling out a victory ahead of real-estate-magnate-turned-presidential-politician Donald Trump. According to a RealClearPolitics average of polls, Rubio trailed Trump by more than 18 percentage points, and a number of polls show the gap being even larger.
FiveThirtyEight, the freakishly accurate politics site when it comes to using polls to make election predictions, gave Rubio a 2% chance to pull out a victory in his home state.
And Rubio knew it, too. Fundraising emails to supporters had subject lines like "This is it" and "We May Lose." On Twitter Monday, he indicated a Florida victory would "shock the country."
Tomorrow's the day when we're going to shock the country.https://t.co/JXTXecuaVe— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) March 14, 2016
To many, Rubio's fall from grace has been unexpected, and the loss in Florida unthinkable. But Rubio never had a strong chance at winning his home state.
Of all the Florida polls tracked by RealClearPolitics this election cycle, Rubio has led only one: it dates back to January 2013 and compares his and rival Jeb Bush's prospects in the state against likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton (both lose, but Rubio by less than Bush). Otherwise, the Sunshine State's GOP primary polling have been dominated by Bush and Trump.
Don't trust polls? Well, Rubio's doomed campaign goes far beyond polling.
For one thing, the Republican race has been crowded by Florida locals, rendering it hard for Rubio to stand out from the pack. Beyond Bush, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson reside in Florida. And even though frontrunner Trump is from New York City, like many New Yorkers of a certain age, he has a place in the Sunshine State. He owns numerous resorts and golf clubs in the state, including Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach and Trump National Doral in Miami.
"Florida is like his second home," said Ryan Williams, senior vice president at FP1 Strategies who worked on Mitt Romney's 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. "The voters in Rubio's home state are already pretty familiar with Trump."
However, it was Bush, not Trump, who did the most damage to Rubio's prospects among White House contenders, especially in terms of fundraising. According to data from InsideGov, Bush's campaign committee and super PAC raised a combined $37.5 million from Florida; Rubio's committee and super PAC raised $19.9 million.
"Many of the big donors in Florida were loyal to Bush from his time as governor, and even though they liked Rubio, they went with Bush over Rubio, so it hurt his ability to build a big war chest early on," said Williams, adding that the former governor's exit from the race hasn't solved Rubio's Florida funding problem entirely. "Many of them, since Bush has dropped out, have simply stayed on the sidelines, which has been problematic for Rubio."
Florida's diverse demographics played against Rubio as well, proving an obstacle for him or really any candidate in need of voter consolidation.
"Florida's a very diverse state, the demographics are quite different along age and race and so forth. It's hard to get consensus in Florida," said Susan MacManus, professor of political science at the University of South Florida. She pointed to the state's most recent gubernatorial races, which in 2014 and 2010 came down to about one percentage point. "Things are very competitive here."
"In most places, you've got some sense of statewide identity," said Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist based in Florida. "Florida is a collection of people that came from other places."
Taking a closer look at Florida, region by region, pollster Adam Geller of National Research Inc. found that Rubio trailed in nearly all of the state's media markets except one: Miami-Dade County, the population of which is over 65% Latino. In the other areas he looked at, he did much worse.
"Rubio is kind of getting shut out in all of the other media markets except Miami," he said.
Geller said that Rubio's numbers had improved a bit in days leading up to the election, which he believes might be attributed to violence at Trump's cancelled rally in Chicago, or more likely, the Florida senator's increased ground game as his team has turned its focus to his home state. However, it was too little, too late. "You can see Rubio's numbers growing a little bit. The problem is, it's not enough," he said.
Rubio's Senate absenteeism may have cost him points with Florida locals, to some of whom it seemed he had been running for president since the day he was sworn in instead of answering to constituents. "In his hurry-up journey to win elections, Rubio finds himself battling a lack of substantial record and a lack of pals in the trenches," writes Alex Leary in a recent piece in the Tampa Bay Times.
And if all that wasn't enough, a strong historical election trend was running against a Rubio upset.
"If you look at the history of the Florida primary on the Republican side...the Republican nominee has always won Florida, and the person who won the Republican primary in Florida has always been the person who's won the most primaries coming into Florida," said Schale. "We're a state historically that has always validated the trend in the race."
Rubio's campaign strategy appears not to be conducive to the "on trend" formula. He trailed both Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz significantly in delegate count and only won primaries in Michigan, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.
His approach to the election, described in January by Politico as a "survival strategy," was pegged on the belief that he could wait to start winning. But it appears he waited too long, putting even his home state is out of reach.
"If you don't get an early win or two in those first two or three states, you just don't win nominations," Schale said. "When I was a kid in politics, somebody once told me that the process of becoming the nominee is very similar to winning the NCAA basketball tournament -- you have to win in advance."
While "laws" of U.S. how presidential elections play out seem meant to be broken, Schale's held up when it comes to Rubio in 2016: He lost early and lost the Florida primary.