With the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary in the rearview mirror, the New York Times developed a chart-based analysis piece on what each of the top Republican candidates needs the rest of the way out in order to secure the party nomination for president.
The picture looked rosy for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio after he came in a close third in the Iowa caucus on Feb. 1. Rubio finished strong in what was cast by some as effectively a three-way tie with conservative frontrunners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, and the Florida senator was touted as having momentum going into New Hampshire a week later.
But after a rocky performance in the most recent GOP debate, Rubio stumbled in the Granite State, finishing fifth in a crowd of candidates distantly behind anti-establishment billionaire Trump.
Now, with his Iowa momentum stalled, Rubio needs to win Maine much more so than any of his party rivals in order to secure a spot in the general election, according to the Times analysis.
In their graphic display, Times political analysts Nate Cohn and Josh Keller lay out which states have traditionally moderate or conservative primary voters. They note that many states with high numbers of the farther right-leaning voters expected to support Trump or Cruz will come clustered on Super Tuesday, March 1.
Rubio, considered a more “mainstream” Republican choice, will first need to survive Super Tuesday by faring well in moderate primary states like Virginia and Massachusetts, the Times researchers suggested.
In the later stages of the primary season — in April — will come a series of populous, moderate and winnable states for Rubio, like New York, California and Pennsylvania, they suggested.
But Rubio will need to prove he’s still a viable candidate after Super Tuesday in order to build back momentum before those potentially favorable states come up, according to the Times analysis.
Although Maine is worth relatively few delegates in the national convention, notching a victory in the immediate aftermath of Super Tuesday will be an essential public relations victory for Rubio, the Times data suggests.
Maine’s March 5 caucus could bridge the gap between what could be a tough Super Tuesday and potentially friendly follow-on March states like Michigan and Illinois, which could put the Florida senator on a roll going into the aforementioned April heavyweights.
To be clear, other states will be picking their nominees on March 5 as well, but the Times identified Maine as one Rubio needs on his ideal pathway to victory, as others, like Kentucky and Louisiana, are considered more conservative longshots for him.
In contrast, one reading of the Times data could be that if Trump or Cruz builds a big lead on Super Tuesday and Rubio can’t at least appear to bounce back with a quick win in a place like Maine, it may be difficult for the Florida senator to convince voters in subsequent states he’s still in the fight.
So that’s why Maine is important to Rubio, according to at least one major publication’s analysis of things. But do Mainers actually support Rubio?
That’s tough to know for sure, as there’s been little polling in this state that’s been released publicly.
But the data research site FiveThirtyEight analyzed the candidates’ social media support, and found that at least in terms of Facebook “Likes,” Rubio is still trailing Trump and Cruz on the Republican side in Maine.
Trump’s and Cruz’ respective paths to the GOP nomination both involve winning big shares of those conservative Super Tuesday states, such as Oklahoma, Alabama and Georgia. After that Cruz is considered to have an advantage in states with larger evangelical populations, whereas Trump is expected to fair better in the bigger cities, making him a threat to Rubio in places like New York and Pennsylvania.