POLITICS

Amped-up by triple win, Ted Cruz working grassroots effort in Marco Rubio's Florida

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, waves as he speaks during an election night watch party Tuesday, March 1, 2016, in Stafford, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, waves as he speaks during an election night watch party Tuesday, March 1, 2016, in Stafford, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

After pulling off a major Super Tuesday win in his home state of Texas – along with victories in Oklahoma and Alaska – Sen. Ted Cruz got a much-needed shot of momentum in his presidential bid. Now, the firebrand lawmaker is hoping to parlay that into more primary wins.

At the top of his wish-list would have to be Florida, the winner-take-all March 15 prize with 99 delegates up for grabs. That the Sunshine State is the home base of Cruz's GOP rival, Sen. Marco Rubio, would make a win there all the sweeter. 

And Rubio's backyard is not new terrain for the Cruz campaign, which set up a ground there long ago -- a strategy that was successful for him in the early battleground states of Iowa and South Carolina.

Cruz now has 12 offices up and running throughout the state, with over 300 county coordinators and a few thousand volunteers on call. The Texan's campaign even opened a Miami office in Florida a week before Rubio did.

“We didn’t have 20 plus career politicians attend photo-ops like Rubio did,” Manny Roman, the chair of Cruz for President in Miami-Dade County, told Fox News Latino. “But we did have dozens of grassroots supporters join us for phone banking, multiple sign waving caravans and block-walking.”

The Rubio campaign has received broad support from the Republican establishment both in his home state and inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway. On hand for the candidate’s Miami campaign headquarters opening were Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz Balart and Carlos Curbelo as well as Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

The support of so many Latino politicians may help Rubio win over many in South Florida’s conservative Cuban community, but its impact could be less apparent in other parts of the state where both Cruz’s and Donald Trump’s fiery conservative rhetoric have helped them this campaign season.

And there are a number of state politicians who have decided to back Cruz, most recently, state Rep. Mike Hill, who endorsed the Texas senator on Wednesday morning.

The Cruz campaign also plans to announce later this week a list of Cuban-Americans from Florida who are joining the candidate’s National Hispanic Coalition.

The average of the most recent Florida polls as compiled by Real Clear Politics has Rubio trailing Trump by almost 20 points, and only leading Cruz by five points.

“He is trailing in his home state by high double-digits,” Roman said. “Losing Florida on March 15 will be the final nail in the coffin for Rubio’s presidential campaign. Rubio should do Republicans a parting favor and drop out beforehand to allow Ted Cruz, the only candidate who can beat Donald Trump, to go one-on-one against him.”

Rubio, however, seems far from ready to drop out of the Republican race, especially with his home state just under two weeks away from voting.

Speaking to “America’s Newsroom” on Fox News Wednesday morning, Rubio said that he had not been expecting to have a great night on Tuesday, but he believed that Trump and Cruz – who bet heavily on winning the southern states that have so far gone to Trump – failed to live up expectations.

Rubio said that he doesn’t believe the poll numbers are accurate, and his campaign’s internal polling shows a much closer race in Florida.

“I don’t believe it’s a lost territory,” Rubio said. “Florida is a unique place to poll for a number of different reasons.”

He added: “It’s going to be close, no doubt about it, but we know how to win in Florida and we will win.”

Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.

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