Sen. Marco Rubio’s supporters on Capitol Hill grappled Wednesday with a string of punishing defeats that the Florida Republican has endured on the presidential campaign trail, trying to maintain their optimism but understanding the stakes are incredibly high for next week’s showdown in his home state.
Opinions ranged all over the map from his backers, with some clearly saying that the campaign was over if Rubio could not win Florida while others expressed confidence he could still win. Still others indicated that he needed to win to stay in the race but said they would support him no matter what happens in Florida.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of Rubio’s first supporters in the Senate, was one such contradicted supporter. He said he believed Florida and Ohio are pivotal to Rubio and Gov. John Kasich’s ability to stay in the race and compete with Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
“That is what everyone seems to agree, and the same thing is said for John Kasich in Ohio, that he feels he needs to carry his own state,” Inhofe told reporters, adding that he had no knowledge of what Rubio’s intentions were. “But I think most people would anticipate that [winning Florida] would be necessary for him to still be in the race.”
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) spoke with senior campaign staff Monday, a day before Rubio finished a distant third in two states and fourth in two other states in the collection that voted Tuesday. Fischer came away from the call still optimistic that victory was within reach over Trump in the Sunshine State.
“I hope Marco wins, I know he’s working really hard, I’m with him on this,” Fischer said in a brief interview. “So yeah, I hope he wins.”
She declined to address next steps if Rubio does not pull out a victory there. “We’re positive, I think he’s the guy, gonna keep supporting him,” she said. “We’ll find out next week.”
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), originally a Jeb Bush supporter who threw his support to Rubio after the ex-Florida governor withdrew, gave a strong indication that a loss in Florida would spell the end of the freshman senator’s campaign.
“I think he’s going to have to really rethink moving forward after Florida,” Heller told NBC News and some other congressional reporters.
Inhofe said that despite the floundering campaign, he was willing to continue supporting Rubio beyond Florida if he did not win the state, expressing a sense of loyalty to the cause.
“I’d continue to support him,” he said. “If he sees a path forward, and if he should not win Florida, then I would just assume there is still a path forward. I’d still be supporting him.”