Rubio may face contested GOP convention after setback

Steve Peoples
Associated Press

Okatie, S.C. – — The best hope of the Republican establishment just a week ago, Marco Rubio suddenly faces a path to his party’s presidential nomination that could require a brokered national convention.

That’s according to Rubio and his senior team, who told the Associated Press that the Republican nomination fight will likely go on for another three months, if not longer. It’s a worst-case scenario for the Florida senator and many Republican officials alike who hoped to avoid a prolonged and painful nomination fight in 2016.

But after a disappointing fifth-place finish in New Hampshire, a long delegate slog to the party’s July presidential nominating convention may be the only chance Rubio has left.

“I don’t think it necessarily is negative,” Rubio said Thursday when asked about the possibility of a so-called brokered, or contested, convention. He cited the Democratic Party’s 2008 clash between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama that went deep into the primary season.

“The Clinton-Obama campaign went all 50 states and every territory,” Rubio told reporters as he campaigned in South Carolina. “They didn’t even wrap it up until June… Then they had all sorts of uncertainty going into their convention.”

“Whatever it is, we’re prepared for it,” he said.

Rubio’s team has predicted a long primary season in recent weeks, almost by necessity, as polls suggested he would struggle to score any wins in the early voting states. He finished third in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire, and is already trying to lower expectations for South Carolina’s Feb. 20 election.

The public embrace of a possible brokered convention marks an evolution in public rhetoric from Rubio’s team that could be designed to raise alarm bells among Republican officials. Yet days after a disappointing fifth-place finish in New Hampshire and looking up at Donald Trump in next-up South Carolina, Rubio’s presidential ambitions are truly facing growing odds.

“After this week I feel 55,” the 44-year-old senator joked as he courted voters at an Okatie elderly community Thursday.

He opened up about his challenges with reporters over a late breakfast in an Okatie Cracker Barrel restaurant with his wife and children. The senator ate a stack of blueberry pancakes — soft food, he said, because he cracked a molar the night before on a flight back to Washington, D.C.

He again took responsibility for a poor debate performance last week in New Hampshire and promised to be more aggressive going forward. He was interrupted before the conversation turned to the convention by his teary 8-year-old son, Dominick, who said one of his siblings had pinched him.

Soon after the issue was resolved, Rubio charged that his campaign is prepared to compete “until it’s decided” — even if that means the GOP has to select a nominee at its July convention.

“That’s actually the way the rules work,” Rubio said of the possibility of a contested convention.

“The rules were never designed to have everybody drop out after a certain time — it’s just the way it’s worked historically because people have run out of money or they don’t see a path forward. I don’t think it necessarily is negative,” he said.