Marco Rubio, desperate to save his presidential campaign in his home state, is adopting the Mitt Romney strategy – asking Republicans hoping to stop Donald Trump to support his rival, John Kasich, in Ohio.
“John Kasich is the only one who can beat Donald Trump in Ohio,” Rubio said. “If a voter in Ohio is motivated by stopping Donald Trump, I suspect that’s the only choice they can make.”
The flip-side of that strategic gambit is to convince any voters in Florida not backing Trump to support him in Tuesday’s primary.
“I’m the only one who can beat Trump in Florida,” Rubio said during a press conference Friday morning at Temple Beth El.
“A vote for Ted Cruz or John Kasich in Florida is a vote for Donald Trump. Any vote that doesn’t go to me is helping Donald Trump win the 99 delegates that this state will award to the winner.”
Rubio denied any quid pro quo with Kasich. “I have not talked with John Kasich,” he said.
And Kasich’s campaign, confident of its position, showed no interest in returning the favor.
“We were going to win in Ohio without his help, just as he’s going to lose in Florida without ours,” said Kasich campaign spokesman Rob Nichols.
But Kasich’s camp wasted little time capitalizing. Chief strategist John Weaver quickly fired off a fundraising email touting Rubio’s support as evidence that Republicans are consolidating around Kasich.
Last week, Romney, the GOP’s 2012 nominee, suggested that Republicans band together to stop Trump from winning the 1,237 delegates necessary to secure the party’s nomination outright, floating the idea that Rubio and Kasich should urge each other’s supporters to back the other in their critical, home-state contests.
The three remaining GOP contenders vying to stop Trump also met Wednesday and Thursday with Jeb Bush in Miami.
“We welcome the support of the Rubio campaign,” said Trent Duffy, another Kasich spokesman, who called any attempt to tell voters what to do “presumptuous.”
“Voters don’t want to be told what to do. We are not going to be presumptuous to instruct our voters how they should vote,” he continued. “The voters should vote their conscience. They should vote for the best person they think is best able to lead our country. We believe that man is John Kasich… everywhere across the country.”
Ted Cruz, who has added campaign stops in Florida this week in an effort to help Trump deliver the deathblow to Rubio, scoffed at the broader strategy – or Rubio’s “games,” as he put it.
“It’s real simple,” Cruz told reporters in Orlando, where he campaigned Friday morning before flying to Missouri. “How do you beat Donald Trump? You beat him.”
Cruz’s campaign, however, has pulled its television ads that were scheduled to run over the weekend here, signaling a recognition that the money might be better spent elsewhere.
While Rubio and his campaign denied any strategic shift Friday, the senator’s comments came less than an hour after his spokesman went on CNN and put forth the same argument, acknowledging that only Kasich can defeat Trump in Ohio, which awards all of its 66 delegates to the winner.
“If you are a Republican primary voter in Ohio and you want to defeat Donald Trump, your best chance in Ohio is John Kasich,” the spokesman, Alex Conant, said.
“The same is true here in Florida,” he continued, emphasizing that Rubio is best positioned to beat the real-estate mogul in the state’s primary Tuesday for its 99 delegates, also all awarded to the outright winner.
“If you’re a voter and Marco Rubio is not necessarily your first choice – if you like John Kasich or you like Ted Cruz and you’re here in Florida, you need to vote for Marco Rubio because he’s the only one who can deprive Donald Trump of those 99 delegates,” he said. “And if we stop Donald Trump here in Florida, we can stop him in Cleveland. He will not be the Republican nominee.”
A recent poll shows Kasich with a narrow lead over Trump in Ohio, while a series of Florida surveys show Rubio trailing the business magnate, although by different margins.
“Unfortunately, we’ve gotta do whatever it takes to stop Donald Trump from winning Ohio and stop his march to the nomination,” said Jason Roe, a Rubio adviser.
After an event designed to highlight Rubio’s support for Israel, Rubio shrugged off questions about polls and his long-term political future.
“I’m not concerned about polls,” Rubio said. “Voters in this election have shown a propensity to change their mind and to do that quickly. We’re very confident about what’s going to happen in Florida.”