New York Times
By Jeremy Peters
January 24, 2016
For months, it was the biggest question nagging at the Rubio campaign here: “Where’s Marco?”
His schedule was not packed with 16-hour days spent rolling across Iowa’s hinterlands in a bus. As an Iowan, you were probably more likely to see him on Fox News or hear about him visiting New Hampshire or South Carolina. Other candidates like Ted Cruz and Donald J. Trump had the support of more high-profile conservative leaders.
But something appears to be shifting for Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. It is a change evident in his growing crowds; a string of endorsements; a friendly nod from a popular Iowa senator, Joni Ernst; and the cautious confidence he is starting to express.
“I’m very optimistic about the energy we’re gaining, the endorsements, the support and the turnout on a day like today,” Mr. Rubio told a crowd of more than 300 people who came to hear him speak here at a Best Western.
All along, Mr. Rubio and his advisers have insisted that grumbling about his relatively light footprint in Iowa would look silly in retrospect. But there is still a week left before Iowans vote — plenty of time for his backloaded strategy to backfire. And by the time the week is over it will be clear whether or not the Rubio campaign is experiencing slow-building momentum that would position the senator to peak right before the caucuses.
Asked on Saturday night if all the activity around his campaign lately was a way of playing catch-up, he said, sounding confident, “No, it’s an indication that the caucuses are eight days away.”
Mr. Rubio’s strategy heading into the caucuses next Monday is to remain the candidate who is most broadly acceptable to the Republican electorate, pitching himself to voters as more agreeable than Mr. Cruz and more sensible than Mr. Trump, the candidates he trails in the polls here.
“You will never see me on TV and cringe and say, ‘I can’t believe I voted for him,’ ” he told an audience of several hundred in Waterloo on Sunday.
A third-place finish is the most realistic outcome the Rubio campaign expects, but it realizes that his margin over whoever finishes in fourth place is also significant. A large margin going into the New Hampshire primary a week later would give him a lift there. With Iowa out of reach, New Hampshire is the state where Mr. Rubio hopes to be able to perform strongly enough to begin consolidating support from the more moderate, establishment-aligned wing of the Republican Party.
Though his campaign does not expect him to win in New Hampshire, either, a strong finish would enable his supporters to start applying pressure to donors who have backed other candidates, namely Jeb Bush, to jump on board. Many donors have privately indicated that they would switch their allegiances to Mr. Rubio, several people inside and outside his campaign have said, but they want to first see how New Hampshire votes.
His advisers say that the only certainty about the race remains its fluidity, and that they are confident they will still be standing once the field narrows. “No poll in New Hampshire matters until Iowa votes, and no poll in South Carolina matters until New Hampshire votes,” said Todd Harris, a senior Rubio strategist.
As Mr. Rubio campaigned across Iowa the last few days, he sharpened his case not only that he is a more practical choice than Mr. Trump or Mr. Cruz, but that he is the candidate most capable of beating Hillary Clinton.
“We’re all frustrated about the direction of America, yes,” he said, urging his audience to reject some of the angrier, more pessimistic appeals from his rivals. “That alone is not enough. You’ve got to know what you’re going to do.”
He added, “You deserve to know exactly what they’re going do when you entrust them with the most powerful office in the land.”
Several voters who are leaning toward Mr. Rubio said there was no single trait or issue that drew them to him. Instead, it is a more intangible attractiveness and a sense that he would perform well in a general election.
“I don’t know if I have any profound reasons for supporting him,” said Aaron Telecky, 44, the pastor of a church in Cedar Rapids who brought his 15-year-old son to hear Mr. Rubio on Sunday.
Mr. Telecky said Mr. Rubio seemed to have presidential qualities that other Republicans did not. “I agree with Cruz on a lot,” he said, “but I don’t think he’s electable. I get the Donald appeal. But he’s too unpredictable. And I don’t think he has a North Star driving his philosophy.”
Mr. Rubio, he said, “checks off a lot of my boxes.”
But Mr. Rubio is still facing unrelenting attacks from opponents, none more apparent than those from the Right to Rise “super PAC,” which supports Mr. Bush and has inundated the airwaves in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
The most potent attack so far — and the one that has Mr. Rubio’s backers most concerned — is an ad that depicts him as a weather vane, shifting his political positions on immigration as the wind blows.
“If you add up all the other candidates, more has been spent against me than all the other candidates combined,” he told his audience here.
In the crowd on Sunday afternoon, there was evidence the attacks were sticking. A man stood up and asked Mr. Rubio to clarify how his support for immigration reform did not amount to supporting “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants.
“I’m a little confused,” the man said. “Where’s the difference?”
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com