Florida Sen. Marco Rubio hasn't won a Republican presidential primary yet, but his press team has done an incredible job of convincing the media he will do so any day now.
The latest sign of Rubio's resurgence came on Tuesday in a glowing Politico article titled "Rubio surges back to electrify South Carolina." The website reported that the presidential hopeful was "dazzling crowds as 'the comeback kid'" -- a reference to the nickname Bill Clinton earned after a surprise second-place finish in the 1992 New Hampshire primary -- and claimed Rubio was "positioned to finish either second or third" in the South Carolina primary on Saturday. The strategy, according to several Rubio campaign aides quoted in the story, is for a loss decent showing in South Carolina to finally convince establishment voters to coalesce around the senator:
If Rubio simply finishes ahead of Jeb Bush, who is polling a distant fourth or fifth in some surveys, and emerges from this state, always critical to his chances, as the establishment’s comeback kid, it will be because of his campaign’s quick adjustment in the face of adversity — and its unwavering faith in the candidate himself.
Everyone loves a comeback, but the media has been predicting a Rubio surge for months, even before his disappointing third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses and even worse fifth-place showing in the New Hampshire primary. That narrative has continued, although Texas Sen. Ted Cruz appears to be seeing a bigger surge in the polls ahead of the South Carolina race.
If Rubio has a saving grace, it is the press:
The Daily Caller: The Rumors Of Marco Rubio’s Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
Tampa Bay Times: Rubio scores comeback debate performance in South Carolina
The Weekly Standard: Rubio Plays Defense: Can he bounce back?
PJ Media: Rubio the Comeback Kid in South Carolina
Conventional wisdom would indicate that winning the party's nomination would require winning one -- any -- primary. Yet the senator's surrogates are lowering expectations in hopes of snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat in Saturday's Palmetto State primary.
"Third is not bad here, particularly coming out of New Hampshire where his obituary was being written," said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who has endorsed Rubio.
The New Hampshire flop was a setback for the senator's early-state strategy, reportedly dubbed "3-2-1," in which his campaign spun a third-place finish in Iowa as part of a grand plan that included a second-place finish in the Granite State and a subsequent first-place showing in South Carolina. At the moment, the plan is looking more like "3-5-3."
Rubio may well surprise everyone on Saturday. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, won South Carolina after finishing fourth in New Hampshire (though he went on to lose the nomination to Mitt Romney). But the Nevada primary is next on the calendar, and Donald Trump holds a large lead in polls there. After that, there will be primaries across a wide swath of southern states, where Rubio will find it harder to consolidate the so-called establishment lane -- especially with no signs that either former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or Ohio Gov. John Kasich plan to throw in the towel anytime soon.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated that Bill Clinton won the New Hampshire primary in 1992. In fact, he came in second place.
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