MIAMI – This is supposed to be the cornerstone of Marco Rubio’s political base — the iconic spot where conservative, anti-Castro Cubans have gathered for decades.
Instead there’s an ominous whiff around the coffee stand at Cafe Versailles, as the hometown boy risks having his presidential campaign roasted and toasted Tuesday.
A woman brushed off Rubio organizers who exited an old Volkswagen van decorated in campaign signs when it pulled up to the landmark in Miami’s Little Havana the other day
Another elderly woman elbowed her way around them to get to the counter so she could order a sweet, caffeine-packed cup of cafecito. She offered a curt, one-word reply when asked whether she supported Rubio: “No.”
It’s been that kind of month for the young senator. He’d appeared poised to gobble up supporters and campaign cash after older rivals dropped out, but has failed so far to dent Donald Trump.
Now he’s in danger of losing his home state — he’s almost 20 points behind Trump in the polls, as the bombastic billionaire hopes to establish a stranglehold on the Republican nomination.
“I think (Rubio’s) going to have to drop out (if he loses),” said Allan Lichtman, an electoral forecaster and history professor at American University.
“If he wants to have a political future, he can’t drag this on to the point where it’s only blood in the water.”
Trump’s outlook is rosier.
Tuesday is a big deal. By day’s end, nearly two-thirds of the delegates will have been chosen for the summer nominating convention, whereas less than half have been awarded so far.
It’s not just that five states are voting: Florida, Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri. It’s that big blocks of delegates are about to be awarded in the first winner-take-all races of this election cycle, compared to the proportional allotment in earlier states.
Trump holds a huge lead in the biggest one — Florida, which also happens to be the home state of the telegenic young senator considered by much of the party brass to be the greatest threat to him. He also leads in three of the other four, trailing only in Ohio behind the popular governor, John Kasich.
“The most likely outcome is Donald Trump will pad his delegate lead,” Lichtman said.
The main question to be answered Tuesday is whether Trump has a hope of locking up the nomination before the convention, or whether there might be a historic multi-ballot fight in late July on the floor of an arena in Cleveland.
The tycoon currently has about 40 per cent of the delegates awarded so far. It’s a solid lead, but not enough to claim the 50-per-cent-plus one he needs to score a first-ballot knockout.
Anything under 50 per cent gives his many detractors within the party an opportunity to rally around another candidate and take him out in a later round of voting.
That’s the strategy being whipped up by the party leadership, which is rallying behind Kasich in Ohio and Rubio in Florida, to suppress Trump’s delegate count.
There are big flies in this ointment.
Perhaps the biggest is the fact that the candidate who’s No. 2 in delegate count is perhaps even more detested by his party, making him an unlikely rallying point: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz began his autobiography with a chapter bragging about how much his colleagues hate him.
He’s made a point of refusing to play along with the strategic-voting scheme publicly spearheaded by 2012 nominee Mitt Romney. It’s supported by the Kasich and Rubio campaigns, who’ve essentially made non-compete agreements for each other’s turf.
“No, we’re not engaged in this delegate-denial strategy that came out of the Washington establishment,” Cruz said this weekend.
“They have dreams of a brokered convention dropping their favourite Washington candidate in to win. That would be a disaster. The people would revolt. The only way to beat Donald Trump is beat him at the ballot box.”
Trump would be hovering around the 50-per-cent pace if he wins all five states Tuesday and could be around 45 per cent if, as is likelier, he wins most but loses Ohio.