It may be little more than a meaningless blip on the radar screen, but the Republican presidential frontrunner appears to be losing altitude in two important upcoming races, in Michigan and Florida.
Amid an “Anybody but Trump” drumbeat struck by establishment Republicans, conservative purists and well-heeled outside groups, the billionaire businessman is trying to regain his momentum after a dismal performance in last Thursday’s Republican debate and then a mixed performance in the “Super Saturday” primaries and caucuses.
Until then, Trump was expected to easily roll to victory in Michigan’s Tuesday primary and humiliate Rubio and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio in the crucial Florida and Ohio primaries on March 15. With Rubio and Kasich out of the way, Trump could then turn his full attention to defeating Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has won six contests, including Saturday’s victories in Kansas and Maine.
But two new surveys by Monmouth University out on Monday suggests that the GOP races in Michigan and Florida are beginning to tighten, and that Kasich and Rubio have begun to creep up in the standings.
In Michigan, Trump is leading the GOP field with 36 percent of likely GOP primary voters, followed by Cruz with 23 percent, Kasich with 21 percent and Rubio at 13 percent. However, Trump did much better in voter interviews conducted before his controversial debate performance than after. The Saturday and Sunday interviews showed Trump with just 32 percent support, with 26 percent for Kasich, 25 percent for Cruz and 12 percent for Rubio.
“After this past weekend’s mixed bag of results, Trump appears positioned for a win in Michigan, but the race may be tightening in the final hours,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. “Trump’s support may be dropping, while Kasich’s star could be rising.”
Indeed, Trump’s lead had been 19 points or more in the previous five surveys in Michigan, so something seems to be giving.
The same could be said for Florida, where Rubio, the freshman senator, is betting everything on beating Trump in order to revive a campaign that has badly faltered and has produced only two wins out of 20 contests – in Minnesota and Puerto Rico. Rubio’s relationship with Trump is so poisoned that the New York billionaire regularly refers to him as “Little Marco” who “couldn’t be elected dog catcher.” Rubio has denounced Trump as a “con man” and phony conservative, and the two achieved new lows in the debate last Thursday.
The Monmouth poll out of Florida shows Trump’s lead shrinking to just eight percentage points. Of the likely Republican voters interviewed last Thursday through Saturday, 38 percent chose Trump while 30 percent favored Rubio. Notably, Rubio leads Trump among the one in five voters who have already cast their ballots, 48 percent to 23 percent, while Trump leads among those who haven’t voted yet, 42 percent to 26 percent, according to the poll.
That suggests that Rubio still has time to change the minds of Trump supporters before they head to the polls.