Now that Florida Senator Marco Rubio has dropped out of the presidential race, the well-organized group of supporters he had on the ground in New Jersey has been left without a candidate. With the Republican race still divided three ways between billionaire Donald Trump, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich, New Jersey’s Rubio supporters still have a slew of candidates to back.
But which of the candidates will be able to fill the hole left by Rubio in NJ?
Trump is the current frontrunner but his rhetoric has often been troubling for the more moderate, establishment-friendly coalition that united behind Rubio. Ted Cruz is a Tea Party candidate who, like Rubio, is Cuban American. However, Cruz is often seen as too right wing for New Jersey’s more moderate brand of Republicanism. Kasich seems to be the most natural choice simply because, like Rubio, he is a part of the Republican establishment. But Kasich’s significant weakness stacks up to nothing more than math: he has only won his home state of Ohio so far in the primaries and time is running out for him to be able to catch up to Trump delegate-wise.
According to New Jersey for Marco Rubio co-chair Fernando Alonso, he and the majority of New Jersey’s Rubio supporters are going to take the next few days to decide what they want to do in terms of backing a presidential candidate.
“We were so organized and ready for what we thought would be a great campaign in June,” Alonso said. “I think everybody wants to take a few days off and decide what they want to do. Decide if they want to be a part of stop Trump or not. So that is where we are at the moment.”
Alonso said that though Kasich might be a natural fit for Rubio supporters, the uncertainty of whether or not he will last in the race poses some issues for those who might support him.
“I would say that a lot of the people that are Rubio supporters would probably fit in very well with the Kasich people,” Alonso said. “I thought that Kasich and Rubio would make a tremendous team but, unfortunately, that has not played out in this primary. I would assume that they would go that route, I just don’t know how well organized the Kasich group is in New Jersey or whether he will be here for the primary in New Jersey.”
Alonso said that he was contacted by Cruz supporters after news broke of Rubio’s Florida loss and his subsequent withdrawal.
“I know that the Cruz people, a couple of them called me last night and are reaching out to me,” Alonso said. “I just said ‘Look I am just going to take it easy for a couple of days while I decide what to do.’”
Among New Jersey’s Cuban-American Republicans, support for Rubio was strong. Alonso, co-chair Carlos Rendo and Rubio fundraiser Juan Gutierrez (owner of Northeast Remsco Construction) all have Cuban backgrounds.
“It was never ‘We are going to go with Rubio and then if he doesn’t win we are going to go with Cruz because he is Cuban.’ I never really heard that,” Alonso said. “Cruz and Rubio ran different kinds of campaigns with different messages. Rubio is, I think, a more uplifting, practical, commonsense candidate that I think got swept up in this anti-establishment thing. Where Cruz, though there are a lot of things that are interesting about Cruz constitutionally and stuff, I think that Cruz is too much of an ideologue. It is not like the Cuban/Hispanic vote will go directly to Cruz. I don’t see it that way.”
Since the announcement of Rubio’s candidacy, his New Jersey team organized a tremendous effort on the ground. The group’s facebook page listed a number of mayors, former assembly people and councilmembers who all were backing Rubio. While the endorsements were mainly on the local scale, they managed to generate a significant amount of interest on that level. Additionally, that support base of Republicans could have been a driving force in New Jersey on primary day. But, because New Jersey’s primary is not until June, the true impact of those local level endorsements will never be known.
According to Alonso, though the effort of the NJ Rubio organization came up fruitless, it was still worthwhile.
“I think, for us in New Jersey, it shows that I think we are saner than a lot of Republicans out there,” Alonso joked. “We were itching for the fight but unfortunately we didn’t get there.”
Now, there is the growing question of where big NJ fundraisers like Gutierrez (who raised about $130 thousand for Rubio in his Colts Neck home in August) will turn their attention.
If New Jersey Republicans who supported Rubio decide to join the “stop Trump” movement, their numbers might make a difference leading up to the final June 7 primaries or during the limited fundraising time leading up to the convention. But, with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s decision to back Trump, many of New Jersey’s Republicans are likely to fall in line and support the businessman as their party’s nomination to become the next president of the U.S. For now, it is shaping up to be a battle between who is left in the race by the July Republican convention.
While Rubio is no longer in the running to become the next president, Alonso still believes he has a bright future.
“I think he has a great chance or running for Governor in Florida or for being on the national slate for the Republican Party,” Alonso said. “Everyone will realize this guy was an uplifting type candidate. Unfortunately he just couldn’t break through the Republican primary.”
According to Alonso, his decision is still up in the air.
“Even Trump himself has got a chance to change,” he said. “The problem is that he has done so many things and insulted so many people. I think it is going to be a problem with the Hispanic community. So, who knows? I have to think about it a little bit more.”