Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, came to Idaho Sunday hoping to build on his Sunday win in Puerto Rico and forget about his dismal showing in the “super Saturday” states.
“Idaho has a chance to restart this campaign across this country,” Rubio told a crowd estimated at 2,500 at a commercial aviation hangar at the Boise Airport.
In a polished 30-minute speech, Rubio touched on near-sacred conservative themes of smaller government, a strong defense, gun rights and lower taxes. “Even those people who protested against me, we’re gonna cut their taxes too,” he said, winning laughs.
“We don’t have to be more moderate to win these elections,” he said. “We have to be authentically conservative. But an optimistic conservatism, not a nasty conservatism, not an angry conservatism, not a frustrated conservatism. A conservatism like Ronald Reagan.”
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At an earlier rally in Idaho Falls on Sunday, Rubio sought to portray himself as the Republican candidate best positioned to unite a splintered party, and the one most likely to elicit fear from Hillary Clinton in the general election.
“It’s crunch time here. I need to win,” Rubio told the Idaho Falls crowd of about 1,000. “I’m the conservative who can win, because I can unite this party.”
Rubio said he turned down a chance to appear on “Saturday Night Live” to be able to get to Idaho from Puerto Rico, where he won Sunday’s primary with 70 percent of the vote and earned all 23 delegates. He returned immediately to Florida, where he faces a do-or-die test in his home state on March 15.
In Kansas on Saturday, where Rubio made three stops after canceling campaign visits to other states, he took 17 percent and finished third behind Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, despite endorsements including Gov. Sam Brownback and Bob Dole. He finished third also in Kentucky and Louisiana, and failed to reach double digits in Maine, where he finished fourth behind Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Rubio spoke of America as the land of opportunity that had helped his Cuban immigrant parents and himself. The first English phrase his father learned was “I’m looking for work,” he said.
He aimed his sharpest attacks at Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and never mentioned his Republican opponents by name, but did say: “If we nominate some of the other people that are still running, we’re not going to win.”
He concluded by underscoring the importance Idaho could play in restarting his candidacy.
“I know that this is not a role that you have traditionally played in Idaho, but you’re going to play it on Tuesday,” Rubio said. “You are going to play an important role in the direction of this campaign.”
Idaho Sen. Jim Risch introduced Rubio in Idaho Falls and Boise. Risch said he and Rubio “have spent hundreds of hours together working on national security matters,” serving on the Senate Foreign Relations committee: “With Marco Rubio, you don’t have to wait for the first day. He is ready today.”
Risch also noted Rubio’s support for nuclear energy and the Idaho National Laboratory. Rubio also has the backing of Idaho State Controller Brandon Woolf.
Rubio “knows this is the flagship lab for nuclear energy in America, and he wants to keep it that way,” Risch said in Idaho Falls, adding that Cruz has said he wants to eliminate the U.S. Department of Energy. Cruz spoke to more than 700 supporters at a rally Saturday night at Boise State University.
Rubio supporters in the Boise crowd echoed the candidate’s message.
“It’s time for people young and old to take charge and get people elected who we think can win and do the kinds of things once they’re in office we like,” said Joe Rogan, of Eagle, a former Air Force lieutenant colonel. “I think Rubio is that kind of guy.”
He continued: “I think there’s so much in Trump’s background that he could never be elected. I don’t think that Cruz can be elected. I think (Rubio) has the pizzazz. To me he looks like a young JFK and I think he has the charisma and wherewithal to get elected and do a good job as a leader.”
“So far, I’m looking to vote for anyone except Trump,” said Tucker Feyder, who’d been pulling for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul until his exit from the race. “Rubio is obviously more level-headed than Trump. He seems more trustworthy than Ted Cruz.”
Theresa Truslow and her mother, Alyce Milstead, of Boise, are Rubio all the way. “I have been supporting Rubio from the beginning,” said Milstead. “I like the way he speaks. I like what he says.”
He faces a strong headwind. Rubio polled third with 16 percent in a late-February poll released Monday by the news website Idaho Politics Weekly. Trump was at 30 percent, and Cruz 19 percent. A poor showing Tuesday in Idaho, as well as Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii, could possibly render Rubio's make-or-break Florida strategy next to meaningless.
Idaho’s Tuesday primary
The Republican and Constitution parties hold their presidential primaries Tuesday, March 8. Voting is restricted to party members, but voters can register and declare their party affiliation at the polls. If you have an absentee ballot, you have until 8 p.m. Tuesday to turn it in to the county clerk.
▪ Polls are open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
▪ Vote in your usual polling place. To find it, visit the idahovotes.gov site.
Idaho’s Tuesday primary election, by the numbers
2 Number of parties participating — the Republican and Constitution parties. The Idaho Democratic Party will make its presidential nominating decisions at county caucuses on March 22, where participants must sign a pledge saying they’re members of the Democratic Party.
3 Number of candidates on the Constitution Party presidential ballot in Idaho: Scott Copeland and Patrick Ockander of Texas, and J.R. Myers of Alaska.
8 Times that polls open and close — from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
13 Number of candidates on the Republican Party ballot, even though some have dropped out of the race since they filed for the Idaho ballot. The choices, in alphabetical order: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Peter Messina, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum and Donald Trump. The ones still actively campaigning are Cruz, Kasich, Rubio and Trump.
32 GOP delegates at stake. No candidate will get any delegates unless that candidate gets at least 20 percent of the vote. And if any candidate gets more than 50 percent, it’ll turn into a winner-take-all: That candidate gets all 32 delegates.
2,265 Number of Idaho voters registered as members of the Constitution Party of Idaho.
298,211 Number of Idaho voters registered as members of the Idaho Republican Party.
364,355 Number of Idaho voters registered as unaffiliated with any party.
740,041 Number of Idaho voters potentially eligible to vote in the primary on Tuesday — but only if they choose to register at the polls as member of the Republican or Constitution party. That figure includes all Idaho registered voters, including the 70,549 registered as Democrats and the 4,661 registered members of the Libertarian Party. If they register as Republicans or Constitution Party members at the polls, that becomes their new party registration; it’ll be a matter of public record. And the overall number could actually be higher, because Idaho’s same-day registration law allows any citizen to register at the polls and vote.
25.3 percent Share of registered voters who voted in the state’s last presidential primary in 2008. In 2012, Idaho had no presidential primary, because Republicans and Democrats used caucuses to make their presidential nominee selections.
— Betsy Z. Russell, The Spokesman-Review