It’s never clear how much endorsements really matter in an election, but with new South Carolina polls showing Marco Rubio surging ahead of Ted Cruz in the Palmetto State, a strong case could be made that popular Gov. Nikki Haley’s decision to give the nod to the Florida senator is making a difference.
On Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the polls in South Carolina are set to open, two surveys that had previously shown Texas Sen. Ted Cruz leading Rubio in the race to come in second behind Donald Trump issued new results.
One, conducted by Opinion Savvy for Fox 5 Atlanta, Morris News Service and the Augusta Chronicle, showed Rubio surging into second place with 24 percent of likely voters backing him. He was only three points behind Trump, who came in at 27 percent, and had opened a sizable lead over Cruz, who clocked in at 19.
The same poll, just days earlier and prior to the Haley endorsement, had shown Trump with 35 percent, Cruz at 19, and Rubio at 15. The extreme divergence in the most recent poll could mean a number of things, one of which is that the poll itself might not be terribly reliable. But, it also might highlight real movement in the race.
Another poll released Friday, by Emerson College, also showed Rubio and Cruz switching positions, though not by nearly as large a margin. The poll found Trump at 36 percent, with Rubio leading Cruz in the second position by 19 to 18. The same poll conducted before the Haley endorsement had Trump at 35, Cruz at 20, and Rubio at 19.
American Research Group on Friday also put out new results. Like the others, it continued to show Trump in the lead with 34 percent. However, Rubio led Cruz by a very surprising 22-13 margin. The ARG poll, though, has shown Rubio ahead of Cruz, sometimes by a large margin, since before the Haley endorsement.
Rubio has been hammering Cruz for dishonesty and “dirty tricks” in South Carolina for several days, and on Friday, his campaign issued a “warning” to South Carolina voters to be on the lookout for “suspicious news reports, emails and social media posts during tomorrow’s voting.”
Rubio communications director Alex Conant, in an email, said, “We will not allow Ted Cruz to do to Marco in South Carolina what he did to Ben Carson in Iowa,” referring to Cruz campaign organizers wrongly telling Ben Carson supporters during the caucuses that their candidate was dropping out.
“Cruz has proven that he is willing to do or say anything to get elected,” Conant said. “Over the last 10 days, the Cruz campaign has lied, smeared, fabricated and even Photoshopped,” said Conant.
He added, “We fear the worst dirty tricks are yet to come” and provided an email address for Rubio supporters to use in reporting any “suspicious” activity.
As more than a few people noted, the warning against dirty tricks was itself a dirty trick of sorts.