He couldn’t have made it any plainer, in English and then in Spanish: Marco Rubio needs a massive turnout in heavily Hispanic cities like Hialeah if he has any chance of remaining in the presidential race.
From a stage in the end zone at a football field, Rubio — and a parade of local, mostly Cuban-American politicians — implored the crowd to back the Florida senator, who finds his dream of the White House fading as he’s failed to notch victories in other primary states.
“We have to win here in Florida,” said Rubio, who trails Republican front-runner Donald Trump in Florida but hopes to blunt him with support here. “We always knew it was going to come down to Florida.”
Rubio noted that he was holding the event a few hours early in hopes that voters would head to a nearby early voting site and that he’d win “if everyone here votes in the numbers that I know you are capable of.”
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Rubio’s poor showing in recent primaries has fueled talk that he’d look to drop out before Florida casts votes on Tuesday, but he insisted he’s staying in.
“I will be on that ballot on Tuesday, I will campaign as long and as hard as it takes,” he told the audience gathered at Milander Stadium in Hialeah.
I will be on that ballot on Tuesday, I will campaign as long and as hard as it takes.
And he warned his supporters against “dirty tricks.
“If anyone tells you Marco Rubio is getting out, tell them you heard it from me: They are lying to you,” he said.
But questions persisted as he stayed onstage for a live interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who asked him at the start whether he was getting out of the race.
“These people here in this state have never given up on me, I am not going to give up on them,” he said.
The rally came as Rubio met with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who also plans to meet with former rivals Gov. John Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Rubio acknowledged that he met with Bush, but told Kelly he wouldn’t detail the conversation.
Bush has yet to endorse anyone since leaving the race last month after his lackluster showing in the South Carolina primary. Some Bush advisers wanted him to immediately back Rubio, a fellow Miamian. But Bush went home to Coral Gables instead, and has kept a low profile since.
“I’d love to have his support,” Rubio said of Bush, but added that he didn’t know whether Bush was going to endorse anyone and wouldn’t presume that it would be him.
The series of meetings could portend an effort to try to stop Trump, which was a Bush priority when he was a candidate.
But Rubio rejected any talk of a unity ticket, saying a vote for either Cruz or Kasich “is a vote for Donald Trump” and that he’s the only Republican who can win in November.
Before Rubio took to the stage, an array of local politicians in English and Spanish made it plain that Rubio needs blockbuster turnout in the heavily Cuban American area to survive. They appealed for support for Rubio as a local son.
“We have one of our own who has the opportunity to be the next president of the United States,” Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez said. “This is historical and it’s going to be a long time before we get the opportunity again.”
We have one of our own who has the opportunity to be the next president of the United States.
Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez
Monica Marks, 43, a Hollywood marketing and sales consultant, said that she speaks for many Rubio supporters when she says he should take his campaign all the way to the convention — and see what happens.
“I’m not buying this, that he should go away,” Marks said. “You stay in until the last vote is tallied. Don’t fall into the Trump trap and be intimidated out of the race.”
Carmen Aguiar, a Hialeah Gardens retiree, said that she and “13 members of the Aguiar family” are praying that Rubio stays in the race.
“He’s the only one that can bring the party back together,” she said. If Trump wins the nomination, she said, the family will stay home in November.
“He is yelling at everyone, he is insulting everyone,” she said of Trump. “I am afraid.”
Still, Rubio’s inability to win states or place in the top is taking a toll, even at home. David Torres, 59, a Miami construction worker, has been split between Rubio and Ted Cruz since the start of the race.
“But the way it’s playing out, he’s falling behind,” Torres said of Rubio. In recent days, he has found himself leaning Team Cruz. His No. 1 criteria: defeating Donald Trump.
“I don’t want to even mention his name,” Torres said of Trump. “He’s loud, he’s crude. He’s a disaster for the party.”
Rubio twice Wednesday acknowledged that he may have made a misstep when he went after Trump's haircut, tan and the size of his, ahem, hands.
“The personal stuff, at the end of the day it’s not something I’m entirely proud of. My kids were embarrassed by it and if I had to do it again I wouldn't,” Rubio said during an hour-long townhall session with MSNBC at Florida International University.
But Rubio defended his attacks on Trump's character and businesses. And he said that while he would still support Trump over the Democratic nominee, he “absolutely” would not campaign with Trump were the polarizing billionaire to win the party's nomination and ask Rubio to join the ticket.
“I'm not looking to be anyone’s vice president. I want to be president of the United States or I’ll be a private citizen,” he said. “I love public service. It's what I do, it's not who I am.”
He called on Florida supporters of his other rivals, Kasich and Cruz, to vote for him in Florida if they want to ensure Trump doesn't win the party's nomination.
“A vote for anyone other than me is a vote for Donald Trump,” he said.
He attributed some of Trump's lead in Florida — and his own struggles — to the size of the state and a reliance on national media coverage that has given Trump abundant air time and coverage. But the freshman senator said he can still win.
“I've been in tough races before but it's an election,” he said. “You better hope your president went through a trial on the campaign because being president is even harder.”
Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report