Behind in polls but fresh off a strong debate performance, Sen. Marco Rubio is making a major push in Virginia before the Republican primaries on Super Tuesday.
The Florida senator will make four stops in the state on Sunday, holding rallies in Loudoun, Richmond, Virginia Beach and Roanaoke. U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) is kicking off get-out-the-vote efforts in Leesburg the day before.
Rubio has bought air time in Charlottesville, Hampton Roads, Richmond and Roanoke, and a super PAC supporting him is airing ads in the expensive Northern Virginia suburbs.
The push comes as observers say Rubio performed well in the GOP debate Thursday night.
“Rubio really came alive last night and that is being noticed by the conservative grass roots,” said Mark J. Rozell, acting dean of George Mason’s School of Policy, Government and International Affairs.
Rubio is hardly alone in contesting Virginia. Donald Trump is also on the air, as is a super PAC supporting Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. The most recent polling shows Trump with a sizable lead in the state, 41 percent to Rubio’s 27 percent. Trump spoke at evangelical Regent University on Wednesday; Cruz and neurosurgeon Ben Carson are both speaking there before the primary. Trump is coming back for a speech at Radford University in southwest Virginia on Monday. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is making a hard push in Northern Virginia for the same mainstream Republicans most likely to back Rubio.
Still, no other candidate will be touted as much on television or seen as much by voters before March 1.
Virginia allocates delegates proportionally, so even if Rubio fails to topple Trump he will come away with support in the state. But a win in Virginia would be significant on multiple levels. The anti-government sentiment fueling Trump took hold in Virginia’s Republican Party years ago.
Yet the state has a high proportion of highly educated federal workers, especially in the dense Northern Virginia suburbs Rubio is targeting. Those same suburbs are key to Republicans’ hopes in the fall, when Virginia will be a key swing state. If Rubio does well here, it would demonstrate general election viability.