Marco Rubio wants to win Saturday’s S.C. GOP primary but could count a third-place finish as a success, political allies say.
After a disappointing New Hampshire primary performance, the Florida U.S. senator is looking for a strong finish in the state’s Republican presidential primary.
That strong finish, according to Rubio ally U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg, could be as low as third place.
“Third is not bad here, particularly coming out of New Hampshire where his obituary was being written,” said Gowdy who, with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of North Charleston, has endorsed Rubio and is campaigning for him around the state.
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Hogan Gidley, who was national communications adviser for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s defunct presidential campaign, said finishing in the top three is what’s important.
“There will be three tickets punched out of South Carolina,” making the state “the gateway for someone picking up a lot of votes in the South” in upcoming contests, said Gidley, a former S.C. GOP executive director now unaffiliated with any campaign.
A frenzy of primary voting begins March 1 in other states.
So far, Trump has dominated the state’s polls with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas shaping up as the solid second choice of S.C. GOP voters.
But if a new poll holds true, Rubio could finish second in South Carolina. A Public Policy Polling survey out Monday has Rubio tied with Cruzfor second place, both winning 18 percent support. In that poll, Trump is at 35 percent.
Rubio has struggled to separate himself from a pack of candidates — including Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — vying to become the anti-Trump, anti-Cruz candidate of the GOP mainstream.
Rubio said Monday that hehas the ability to appeal to Republicans across the political spectrum and attract newcomers to the party.
“If you want Republicans to win, you need a nominee who can unite the party. That’s someone who can speak to every segment of the Republican coalition. I am the only one left in the race that can do that.”
That strength also is why he is the frequent target of other candidates, Rubio contends.
“The reason why both Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush attack me is because I take voters from both of them, which tells you that we have an appeal that goes across the spectrum of the party,” Rubio said during an interview at The State.
Hoping to convince S.C. Republicans to agree with him, Rubio campaigned in Blythewood Monday morning, between events in Rock Hill, Florence and Lexington.
Gowdy and actor Mario Lopez joined Rubio in Blythewood, where he picked up an endorsement from Mayor Mike Ross.
However, Trump’s reign at the GOP frontrunner poses a challenge for Rubio.
Columbia resident Celine Millus said she likes Rubio but thinks Cruz might have a better chance of beating Trump, who she does not want to win.
“So, do I go for the guy that I love who I think will do better in the general election? Or do I vote for the guy who has a chance at beating Trump? That’s my predicament.”