Marco Rubio ends his presidential campaign after bruising Florida primary loss

Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday announces the end of his campaign, which he said was overtaken by a “real political storm.’’
Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday announces the end of his campaign, which he said was overtaken by a “real political storm.’’
Published Mar. 16, 2016


Marco Rubio, whose breathless rise in Florida politics catapulted him to the national stage and made him the face of the GOP's future, saw his White House hopes crushed Tuesday by the phenomenon of Donald Trump.

The Republican race was called precisely as polls closed at 8 p.m., and Rubio announced shortly after that he was suspending his campaign, which was engulfed in what he called "a real political storm, a real tsunami."

Strikingly, Trump won every one of Florida's 67 counties except Miami-Dade, where Rubio lives and there's a heavy Hispanic population. He won Pinellas County by 24 percentage points. Hillsborough by 12. Pasco by 30 and Hernando by a whopping 39.

His statewide margin: 19 percentage points.

"Trump had a big, big victory in Florida," Rubio said, drawing boos from a small audience in Miami. "No, no, no," he said. "Guys, we live in a republic and our voters make these decisions and we respect that very much and it was a big win."

Flanked by his wife and four children, the 44-year-old son of Cuban immigrants spoke to people's fears and concerns but tried to draw a distinct contrast with Trump.

"From a political standpoint, the easiest thing to have done in this campaign is to jump on all of those anxieties I just talked about, to make people angrier, make people more frustrated. But I chose a different route and I'm proud of that," he said.

"I ask the American people, do not give into the fear, do not give into the frustration. We can disagree about public policy, we can disagree about it vibrantly, passionately, we are a hopeful people, and we have every right to be hopeful."

Hillary Clinton easily captured the Democratic contest.

Trump collected all of Florida's 99 delegates, expanding his national lead. He also won in North Carolina and Illinois and was ahead in Missouri late Tuesday.

But Trump lost Ohio to Gov. John Kasich, now the GOP establishment's last hope to stop the billionaire businessman. Rubio had hoped to claim that spot.

"Florida was amazing," Trump declared from Palm Beach well after Rubio left the stage.

Trump singled out recent endorsements from Ben Carson, who had dropped out of the presidential race, and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, though he had been leading in polls for a long time.

Trump said he was growing the party and called for unity. "We have something happening that actually makes the Republican Party probably the biggest political story everywhere in the world," he said. "Millions of people are coming in to vote. Many, many more people."

He agreed there was "great anger" among the electorate, but added: "They're not angry people, but they want to see the country properly run."

Trump won about half of white voters and nearly 3 in 10 Hispanics, according to exit polls. He overwhelming won voters without a college degree and about 4 in 10 of those with a college diploma. Florida voters also liked his outsider status and 4 in 10 said they were angry with Washington.

Earlier in the day, Rubio vowed to carry on but as the sheer scope of his defeat set in, he acknowledged the impossibility with so few delegates gained from meager wins in Minnesota, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

By dropping out on Election Day, Rubio followed the fate of one-time Florida rival Jeb Bush, who withdrew after badly losing in South Carolina on Feb. 20. (Still, more than 43,000 Floridians voted for the former governor who was in the race when early ballots went out.)

Rubio spoke from the lobby of a basketball arena at Florida International University. The actual 5,000-seat arena was unused, a metaphor for Rubio's fallen status. First elected to the West Miami City Commission in 1998, he had never lost an election in Florida until Tuesday.

At times it sounded as though Rubio was auditioning for his next run — "while it may not be God's plan that I be president in 2016 . . ." he said — and called for "a new political establishment in our party."

"Not one that looks down on people that live outside of the District of Columbia, not one that tells young people that they need to wait their turn and wait in line and not one that's more interested in winning elections than it is in solving problems than standing by principles."

Rubio blasted a mentality that "looked down at conservatives as simple-minded people. Looked down at conservatives as simply bomb-throwers; a political establishment that for far too long has taken the votes of conservatives for granted; and a political establishment that has confused cronyism for capitalism."

Still, the defeat was extraordinary and will complicate Rubio's political future.

There has been widespread speculation he will run for governor in 2018, but this campaign raised doubts about his statewide viability and put a sharper focus on his poor attendance record in Washington.

His rise has been stunning, the baby-faced West Miami commissioner turned Florida House member turned House speaker. He rose to national prominence in his 2010 Senate race against then-Gov. Charlie Crist, riding a tea party wave that pulsed with the anti-government sentiment now fueling Trump.

Rubio almost immediately began planning a run for higher office and announced his campaign in April 2015 under the banner of youth and optimism. "Yesterday is over, and we are never going back," he said that day from the Freedom Tower in Miami, a not-so-subtle knock at Clinton and Bush.

Despite the hype, Rubio's campaign always hovered in the middle, flashes of momentum driven by strong debate performances but blunted by one horrible debate — the robotic repeating of scripted lines in New Hampshire — and a strategy that banked on national TV appearances while lacking strong ground organization.

Rubio had planned to win one of the three early nominating states but placed third in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire and second in South Carolina.

The final blow came earlier this month when Rubio leveled a series of crass personal attacks on Trump, destroying the positive image he worked to build. That led to a trouncing in a series of primaries before Florida's election.

Ambition also seemed to hurt Rubio; voters across the state said the first-term senator had not paid attention to the job he was elected to do and many conservatives felt betrayed by his role in writing the Senate's 2013 immigration bill.

Above all, Rubio ran a safe campaign while voters flocked to the mad-as-hell message of Trump.

"He says it like it is," said Lucille J. Justin, 77 of Plantation, who attended Trump's rally Sunday in Boca Raton. "And he's funding his own campaign; he's beholden to no one."

Said Lewis Midler, 51, of Boca Raton: "He's not a Washington prostitute."

"Marco tried to be too many things to too many people," Midler said, accusing Rubio of altering his message to fit his audience. "We saw right through it."

Now Rubio must return to the job in Washington he roundly dismissed. He had previously vowed not to seek re-election even though technically he still could qualify.

Some supporters wanted Rubio to carry on, doing whatever it takes to stop Trump. "We're looking for a brokered convention," said Marcel Reinosa, 26, of Miami, who attended Rubio's event at FIU.

Regardless, he added, Rubio has a future in politics. "He's a great speaker and he came from the bottom."

Rubio was asked earlier Tuesday on Radio Mambi in Miami if he would be Trump's running mate. "Not now, and not any time in the future. Period."

The Democratic contest between Clinton and Bernie Sanders was a blowout, the former secretary of state trouncing her rival.

"We are moving closer to securing the Democratic Party nomination and winning this election in November," Clinton said in West Palm Beach. She also won in Ohio and North Carolina, strengthening her argument.

"You voted for our tomorrow to be better than our yesterday," Clinton said.

Miami Herald political writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report. Contact Alex Leary at Follow @learyreports.