© 2023 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Rubio Awaits, As Voters Cast Ballots In Florida Primary


Three hundred and fifty eight delegates are up for grabs in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina, as voters go to the polls for those states’ presidential primaries. For one presidential candidate, the Florida vote is “make or break.”

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio needs a win in his home state to shore up his diminishing campaign for the Republican nomination. He trails Donald Trump by double digits in recent polls in Florida, whose 99 delegates are winner-take-all.

Speaking to a crowd in downtown Pensacola Saturday night, Rubio said a Donald Trump victory in the Sunshine State would ensure a Democratic victory nationwide in November.

“That’s why I’m here to ask you to support me,” Rubio said. “It was always going to come down to Florida; 99 delegates awarded to whoever gets the most votes. I believe that the winner of the Florida Primary will be the Republican nominee.”

Charles Zelden, a political scientist at Nova Southeastern University, says Rubio – in Southern parlance – bit off more than he could chew.

“He really rolled the dice on this election, and he proved not ready for prime time,” Zelden said. “Organizationally, presentationally in debates, and of course he picked the wrong time to run. He was a perfect candidate to run four years ago.”

Another possible indication that the Rubio campaign has seen the writing on the wall is that he’s asking Ohio voters not to cast ballots for him, but instead for Gov. John Kasich. That’s considered a move aimed at blocking Trump from getting the 1,237 delegates needed for the GOP nomination, heading to Cleveland in mid-July.

“They could head into a contested convention,” said Susan McManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida. “Of course, a lot of people don’t want that and it fractures the party, but if you’re a candidate that continues to just amass delegates, stranger things have happened.”

A Trump sweep would also severely damage the fortunes of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, in turn putting a Trump nomination within easy reach.

“As far as Cruz goes, his strength is primarily in the more conservative parts of Florida, and the area where there hare higher incidents of evangelical voters – the Panhandle, Tallahassee, and going over towards Jacksonville.”

Closer to home, turnout is said to be good around the western Panhandle. As of mid-afternoon, more than 58,000 votes had been cast in Escambia County; about 20,000 in Santa Rosa, and nearly 39,000 in Okaloosa County. Those numbers include in-person, by mail, early voting, and provisional ballots.