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Without A Florida Primary Win, Rubio May Be At The End Of The Line


Well, one lesson this election season - don't trust the polls. Ted Cruz was not supposed to win Iowa. He did. Bernie Sanders was not supposed to win Michigan. He did. Marco Rubio, well, he is hoping to add to this list in Florida. The state votes Tuesday, and there's a lot on the line for Rubio. This is his home state, and it could be Rubio's last chance to remain relevant. Let's turn to someone who knows Florida politics really well. Attorney Mac Stipanovich is a Republican lobbyist in the state Capitol. He has worked for several Florida governors and was also a key adviser to Florida's secretary of state during the Bush-Gore recount back in 2000. Mr. Stipanovich, good morning to you.

MAC STIPANOVICH: Good morning, David. How are you?

GREENE: I'm well. Thank you. So shouldn't Marco Rubio be winning here?

STIPANOVICH: Well, you would think so. But, you know, this year has been anything but anything that you would expect. So I'm not sure this is surprising. You've got Kasich, who appears to be ahead in Ohio, but struggling. And Cruz carried Texas, so now the onus is on Marco to carry Florida.

GREENE: So if Rubio trailing means he's been victimized by sort of the circumstances that you're describing, is there anything he can do to turn the tide?

STIPANOVICH: Well, last night's debate was significantly different than the most recent debates that preceded it. It was a little more civil. I thought Marco did an excellent job. But if the debates proved anything, particularly in Marco's case, they're all risk and no gain. I mean, you can make a mistake and suffer for it, but there's hardly anything you can do that'll change the trajectory of Trump's candidacy. I mean, there's things that do change it, but debates don't appear to be one of them. So Marco's got a ways to go between now and Tuesday according to all the polls. I mean, they're all over the place, between five points behind and 20 points behind. But, you know, it wouldn't take any miracle bigger than happened in Michigan last week.

GREENE: You don't sound that optimistic. We should say, you're a Rubio supporter. I mean, you were with Jeb Bush. Now you're with Rubio.


STIPANOVICH: I am. Yeah, I'm a Rubio supporter, and I was with Jeb. You know, I suppose that I'd have to admit that I am chagrined by the fact that, you know, Trump's antics and ignorance and, you know, just general demeanor appears to have no effect on his vote. You know, he has 35, 40 percent of the Republican primary vote. I mean, you got four candidates in the race, that's enough because, you know, land of the blind, one-eyed man is king.

GREENE: Is there anything Marco Rubio can be doing differently in your mind? What would you advise him?

STIPANOVICH: No, I think he's doing fine. He's in Miami. He's trying to energize his base. This is his state. He's our senator, and, you know, he has to carry it. That's all there is to it. And most of the torpedoes are out of the tube, and none in (unintelligible). And they'll either have a result, or they won't. We'll know on Tuesday.

GREENE: Let me ask you this. My colleague, NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving, wrote about Marco Rubio and the debate last night. He said Rubio was once again the smooth and earnest spokesman for a new American dream and that it's easier to understand why expectations had been so high than to understand his third- and fourth-place finishes. I mean, is there something about voters right now that maybe hearing about a new American dream and optimism is not exactly what they're looking to hear in this moment?

STIPANOVICH: I think that's exactly it. The people who are supporting Trump are angry. They feel like they're losing culturally, economically, politically. The country's changing in ways they don't like. He's promising a return to some mythical past glory. He's preying on that anger. He summons all the demons from the underbelly of America. And an aspirational message about how great we might be by just being hopeful, optimistic and working hard is not what they want to hear. They want to pick on somebody and have somebody bring them back to where they think they were.

GREENE: All right, Mr. Stipanovich, thanks so much for talking to us. We appreciate it.

STIPANOVICH: I appreciate you.

GREENE: Mac Stipanovich is a longtime Republican strategist and lobbyist in Florida, and he is speaking to us from Tallahassee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.