1. Florida Politics

Trump, Rubio ratchet up campaign attacks against each other in Florida

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump told the crowd at the University of Central Florida: “If we win Florida, it’s all over.”
Published Mar. 6, 2016

ORLANDO — The chants filled the University of Central Florida arena Saturday before Donald Trump took the stage.

"No show Marco Rubio! No show Marco Rubio!"

The crowd and the Trump campaign aides egging them on were mocking Rubio for missing so many U.S. Senate votes and committee meetings while running for president, but they could just as easily have been referring to Rubio's invisible Florida campaign for most of the past year.

Only a few days ago — months after Trump opened his first campaign offices in Florida — the Rubio campaign started opening offices outside his Miami-Dade County home turf. Veteran Republican organizers, likewise, have only in recent days started seeing much sign of Rubio reaching out to people who have not yet returned their mail ballots.

"If we win Florida, it's all over," Trump told a crowd of nearly 10,000 at UCF, and most political observers agree that at least for Rubio, it would be all over if he loses Florida on March 15.

The Florida senator has repeatedly predicted he will win his home state, even though he has not led a single poll of Florida Republicans in six months. Two recent polls have shown him trailing by as much as 20 percentage points.

Now, finally, Rubio is focused on Florida, scheduling campaign stops throughout the state, including Tampa on Monday and Sarasota on Tuesday, while his super PAC political committee is spending at least $6 million in TV ads mostly blasting Trump.

Saturday afternoon, while Trump was stirring up the troops in Orlando, Rubio was 140 miles away at a Jacksonville rally.

"The eyes of the nation are on this great state," Rubio told the Jacksonville crowd. "This state where my parents met the American dream, this state where my own American dreams have come to pass, this state that has always given me a chance and will do so again."

In his speech, Rubio attacked Trump for not being a true, lifelong conservative. And he did it in the most Floridian way possible: by comparing Trump with Charlie Crist.

Rubio harkened back to his 2010 U.S. Senate campaign, when he beat Crist — then the sitting governor and still a Republican.

"I was arguing that the person running as a Republican was not a Republican. That the person masquerading as a conservative was not a conservative," he said. "It's funny how history repeats itself."

It echoed a theme Rubio used earlier in the day before flying to Florida: "We will win the state of Florida. We will beat Donald Trump there the way we beat Charlie Crist," he told activists at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference in Washington.

A poll released Saturday by an anti-Trump political committee, Our Principles, found Trump leading Florida only slightly, with 35 percent support, compared with 30 percent for Rubio, 15 percent for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and 9 percent for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Trump faces perhaps his biggest onslaught of negative ads to date in Florida, with roughly $9 million in ads already purchased by Rubio's political committee and other Trump groups.

The Republican frontrunner, meanwhile, has bought less than $2 million in TV ads in Florida, according to groups tracking the purchases, and in Orlando gloated about how little money he spent compared with other candidates he beat in prior contests.

"I spent the least amount of money and I'm number one by a lot. I'm killing everybody," he said.

Some local GOP party officials say they are seeing growing anti-Trump sentiment as Florida's primary approaches, but that could be wishful thinking.

John Triguerio, an evangelical Christian undecided in the election between Rubio and Cruz, attended Rubio's rally.

Trump's backers are just reacting to a Republican Party that they feel has abandoned them, he said, although he doesn't understand why so many evangelicals are among them.

"He does not support our values," Triguerio, who lives in Jacksonville, said. "He doesn't have any actual plans."

Negative ads against Trump, highlighting business bankruptcies or allegations of fraud against Trump University have had little impact. But in Orlando, several voters unprompted said they are seeing a backlash against Rubio for recently ramping up his attacks on Trump, even alluding to the size of Trump's private parts.

"I used to really like Marco Rubio but when he did what he did last week — with the hands stuff and just going after Trump one thing after another, I said this guy's a dirt bag. Wait a minute Rubio, you're like 44 and Trump's a billionaire, and you're going to insult this guy's intelligence? I think he's going to really suffer from that," said James Berwich, 50, of Vero Beach.

St. Cloud resident David Turnbull, 66, said he was stunned by how Rubio suddenly became so juvenile in his attacks.

"I really liked Marco until the last week and a half when he became a blithering idiot. The comments, the innuendo and the outright third-grade attacks, I wouldn't support him for dogcatcher anymore," he said.

March 15 marks a critical point in the race, in large part because Florida, with 99 delegates, and Ohio, with 66, award all their delegates to the winner. If Trump loses both those states, the prospects for keeping him from winning the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination become significantly greater.

If he wins both states, he may be — as Trump himself predicts — unstoppable.

Contact Adam C. Smith at Follow @adamsmithtimes.


  1. In this March 24, 2018, file photo, crowds of people participate in the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in San Francisco. JOSH EDELSON  |  AP
    ‘Guns are always a volatile topic in the halls of the legislature,’ one Republican said.
  2. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.
  3. Tonight's LGBTQ Presidential Forum is hosted by Angelica Ross of FX's Pose. Twitter
    A live stream of the event and what to watch for as 10 candidates meet on stage in Iowa.
  4. In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass.  [AP Photo | Steven Senne] STEVEN SENNE  |  AP
    "The department does not appear to have the authority to do anything.”
  5. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos listens to a speaker share an opinion about a city matter during a city council meeting at Clearwater City Hall in Clearwater, Fla. on Thursday, April 20, 2017.  On Thursday, the Clearwater City Council rejected the mayor's resolution urging lawmakers to ban assault weapons.  [Times files] TIMES FILES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the city did pass a resolution calling for more modest gun control measures.
  6. Maurice A. Ferré at his Miami home earlier this year. JOSE A. IGLESIAS  |  Miami Herald
    He served as mayor for 12 years and set the stage for Miami to become an international city.
  7. Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, during a Feb. 7, 2019, meeting of the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘One test should not determine the rest of your life,’ Rep. Susan Valdes says.
  8. Vice President Joe Biden, right, talks to supporters as former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, left, stands near during a campaign stop at at Century Village in Boca Raton, Fla., Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. Crist is locked in a tight race against Gov. Rick Scott in one of the most negative gubernatorial campaigns in Florida history. The two disagree on most major issues, including health care, the minimum wage, Cuba policy, gay marriage and medical marijuana. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz) ORG XMIT: FLAD102 ALAN DIAZ  |  AP
    The Florida Republican-turned-Democrat said Biden’s ‘record of getting things done speaks for itself.’
  9. FILE - In this June 20, 2018 photo, immigrant children walk in a line outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children a former Job Corps site that now houses them in Homestead, Fla.  Migrant children who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border last year suffered post-traumatic stress and other serious mental health problems, according to a government watchdog report obtained by The Associated Press Wednesday. The chaotic reunification process only added to their trauma. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File) BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP
    Since Homestead’s closing on Aug. 3, at least $33,120,000 has been paid to Caliburn, the company contracted by the government to run Homestead.
  10. The economies of Canada and Florida go together like, well, palm fronds and maple leaves, as seen outside the Sweetwater RV Resort in Zephyrhills. (Times file photo) KATE CALDWELL  |  Tampa Bay Times
    To qualify under the proposed Canadian Snowbirds Act, visitors would have to be older than 50 and would have to own or rent a home here.