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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Marco Rubio steps up campaigning amid criticism



“We've been looking for Marco, but we can't find him. We've had the bus all over New Hampshire. We haven't been able to find him. We understand he did a very quick town hall here and then left to go back to Madison Avenue in New York.”

That was Chris Christie on Morning Joe, engaging in a playfully misleading attack on Marco Rubio, who has been in New Hampshire since Monday.

But there’s a growing perception — fueled by a series of news reports — that Rubio hasn’t spent enough time courting voters in early states. He hasn’t focused on one state (Christie and Jeb Bush are duking it out for New Hampshire, for instance) and his campaign events tend to be shorter than rivals.

In Iowa, there’s a joke Rubio is running for mayor of Ankeny, a suburb of Des Moines.

“Is Marco Rubio In It To Win It?” was the headline on a piece Sunday on the conservative website Red State.

Early on, Rubio spent a lot of time raising money, a focus that had him in California and New York as much as Iowa and New Hampshire. His campaign team is also convinced the race is national, so TV news appearances are a premium.

“More people in Iowa see Marco on Fox and Friends than see Marco when he is in Iowa,” campaign manager Terry Sullivan recently said.

Perception has a way of becoming reality, however, and it’s clear Rubio is focusing more on retail politics. Monday in New Hampshire he held two town halls and popped into a diner in Meredith, his campaign making sure to fill it with supporters.

“At the stop, Rubio seemed determined to prove his critics wrong,” NBC News observed. “He stayed for over an hour, shaking every hand, answering every question and taking every picture.”

Rubio’s campaign says it doesn’t comment on “process stories,” though it has discounted the talk. “Truth is that Marco's spent more time campaigning in early states this month than any other candidate,” spokesman Alex Conant told the Buzz on Tuesday.

The campaign did not provide statistics to back that up, but National Journal’s campaign tracker does suggest Rubio has been on the ground plenty. He has 118 total trips to early states, equal to Christie, though the New Jersey governor nearly doubles appearances in New Hampshire.

Bush, a self-described “grinder,” has made 170 trips. Last week he held four town halls in one day in New Hampshire and he’s in the state this week.

The coming weeks will answer whether Rubio squandered an opportunity or played it smart. Through it all he has a legitimate shot at the nomination, though still trails Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

[Last modified: Tuesday, December 22, 2015 12:36pm]


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