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Trump's Pensacola Visit: A Prep Stop For FL Primary

Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump took to the podium Wednesday night at the Pensacola Bay Center. The visit signals a shift from the initial primaries to Florida in a few weeks.

While Trump has a comfortable lead in New Hampshire according to a new Monmouth University poll, a new Quinnipiac survey has him leading Ted Cruz by only 31-29% percent in Iowa, a dead heat within the margin of error. Trump has shifted the “birther card” from President Obama to Cruz, who was born in Calgary, Alberta to a Cuban father and a mother from Delaware.

“A lot of lawyers say you can’t be born in Canada, you can’t be a Canadian citizen,” Trump said. “Supposing he runs, and everybody’s banking on him, and then the courts rule that he can’t run? That’s not so good. What do you do, concede the election to Hillary Clinton or Crazy Bernie [Sanders]?”

He also pointed to his leads over the two Florida candidates, former Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

“So you have a governor who has very low energy named Bush; you have Rubio, who’s a sitting senator, and you have Trump,” said Trump. “Trump is winning like 32 [percent] to 12, to four or five or something. Trump is kicking ass in Florida, can you believe that?” as the crowd cheered.

Trump also told the packed Bay Center that he would use his business acumen to prevent U-S companies from re-locating overseas, and even what he considers an uneven playing field when it comes to trade in general, and with China in particular.

“If you want to do a deal with China, you’ve got to suffer,” said Trump. “When they do deals with us they come right in, there’s [sic] no taxes. You do deals with China, there is a tax and nobody calls it a tariff, but there’s [sic] big taxes. It’s very hard to do.”

So why was Trump in Pensacola, with the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary just around the corner?

“There’s so much attention now that’s shifting to the March 15 [Florida] primary date, because it’s the first day in this whole selection process that it’s winner take all,” said Susan McManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida.

“Trump would like to show that he is getting a lot of attention and can do well in these big, diverse states like Florida and Ohio – both of which have primaries the same day,” said McManus. “Trying to shift attention away from the fact that he’s not doing that well, or not as well as expected, in these early, nearly all-Anglo and very rural states.”

McManus says another reason Trump took the side trip to Pensacola is that two Floridians – Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio – are on the ballot and said to be popular among likely GOP voters.

“Trump is enjoying a lot of appeal from people from rural areas [and] evangelical Christians; characteristic of the population served by the Pensacola-Mobile television market,” McManus said. “But on the other hand a lot of those same people are more independent registrants.”

Florida is a closed primary state, which means is you’re not a registered Republican you cannot vote for Trump – or any of the other GOP hopefuls -- in the primary. The large field, if it stays intact by mid-March, could work in Trump’s favor in the Sunshine State.

“Even if some of them only get a percent or two, that means that he could win a state like Florida – a ‘winner take all’ state,” said McManus. “By having just 25-30% of the voters’ support. That’s the irony of all this.”

Donald Trump’s appearance in Pensacola came one day before tonight’s next Republican presidential debate on Fox Business Network.

“Every debate poll, everyone from the beginning, all of the debates, I’ve won,” said Trump. “Now we have another debate, and again they attack. Whatever, whatever, whatever.”

Once again, Trump will occupy the center podium and be flanked onstage by Ted Cruz; Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich.