Terry Sullivan, the campaign manager for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, told supporters in an email that the Republican nomination is now “a two-man race.” Sullivan vowed to push the long-anticipated and predictable narrative up until Super Tuesday on March 1, when
“Marco had a strong showing in Nevada last night,” Sullivan wrote in an email to would-be donors. “We’re coming out of there having beaten one of our main rivals and adding delegates, and the race looks even more like a two-man race now than it did this past weekend in South Carolina.”
While Trump won the Nevada Republican Caucus in a landslide–dominating across every single demographic and breaking his media-imposed “ceiling”–Sen. Rubio’s campaign is hoping to highlight he Sen. Cruz, 23.9% to 21.4%. The Donald once again beat Mr. Cruz on his own turf, casting further doubt on the Texas senator’s path to victory moving forward and providing the Florida senator with an opportunity to cast himself as the anti-Trump.
White evangelicals backed Trump (40%) over Cruz (27%) in the Nevada caucus, while evangelicals overall gave the winner a slightly bigger 40% to 26% margin. Both Sens. Rubio and Cruz, who are of Cuban-American decent, lost the Hispanic vote to Mr. Trump. But the Florida senator also finished a distant second place behind the frontrunner in South Carolina, where he enjoyed strong establishment support from Gov. Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Trey Gowdy. With Mr. Cruz out of the race, they believe they can avoid an embarrassing defeat in the Sunshine State, where 99 delegates are up for grabs in a winner-take-all on March 15.
“That’s the message we’re going to be hammering home over the next week before the race really gets going, with Super Tuesday right around the corner on March 1,” Sullivan added. “Conservatives can win this nomination, and we can have a conservative in the White House next year.”
According to the PPD average of aggregate polls, Mr. Trump leads Sen. Rubio in his own home state by roughly 25 points. But he also trailed Sen. Cruz in the latest survey and hopes to push him out either before or shortly after Super Tuesday. However, it is less than clear whether Mr. Cruz’s exit would help or hurt Mr. Rubio. PPD’s research shows supporters of the Texas senator are more likely to back the outsider.
“The Republican Establishment is pushing others, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Cruz to get out of the race and give their supporters to Sen. Rubio,” PPD’s senior political analyst Richard Baris, said. “But that’s not how it works, particularly this year. We are now getting to a point where a small number of supporters from each candidate is more than enough to get Mr. Trump to a majority of the popular vote. Our research shows that Cruz’s exit will only expedite that trend.”
Sen. Cruz pushed back on Wednesday against such claims, citing his Iowa win as why he is the only candidate in the race that can and did beat Mr. Trump.