Marco Rubio faces the most important ten days of his campaign. After steadily rising in the polls since mid-summer, Rubio has now dropped in national polls since early December. He has also fallen by a bit more than two points since the last debate in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He remains in contention in both states, but he needs to start regaining some momentum if he is going to restart his stalled campaign.
His strategy has always been to avoid the he-said/she-said food fights at the top of the scrum, presenting himself as a solid conservative for late deciding voters. Those people are only know making up their minds, so he still has time. But despite his blanketing of the Hawkeye and Granite state airwaves, Rubio’s future might depend on something he can only partly influence, next Thursday’s FOX News debate.
The moderators could structure the debate in ways that can isolate or enhance the Florida senator. They could choose to focus on the Trump-Cruz battle, forcing Rubio to battle for screen time. They could ask Cruz about some of the attacks Rubio has levied against him, or they could focus on Rubio’s biggest policy weakness, immigration. No one knows what they will do, and how they frame the questions could be decisive.
Everyone in the race wants to be the next Ronald Reagan, so perhaps Rubio should study what Reagan did when his campaign stalled after losing Iowa unexpectedly to George H.W. Bush. He used the last debate before the New Hampshire primary to demonstrate the decisive leadership Republicans craved, and followed that performance up with a decisive, twenty-seven point win. Rubio won’t be paying for the FOX microphone, but Thursday might be the last chance for him to jump to light speed.