DERRY, N.H. — Admittedly, a Jeb Bush town hall and a Chris Christie restaurant visit are bad places to look for Marco Rubio voters.
And yet there I was, practically begging New Hampshire voters to tell me they had been leaning toward one of those GOP establishment candidates, but were now lining up behind Rubio to take down Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
“What do you make of the argument that establishment Republicans need to get behind Rubio because he’s the only one who can beat Trump?” I asked, over and over, in some form or another, feeling as if the Rubio campaign should probably start paying me.
But in spite of my most flawed interview techniques, I was getting an interesting answer.
Sorry, New Hampshire voters would say, knowing they were stepping all over my tidy little narrative.
Rubio’s too inexperienced.
He’s too immature.
I want someone who’s been a governor.
Maybe in four years.
They just didn’t seem to like him. The narrative that said they were supposed to peel off their Christie or John Kasich bumper stickers, turn in their Jeb! lawn signs, and get on the Rubio bandwagon hadn’t reached them.
Had they missed the tweets? Didn’t they see Marco’s (third-place) victory speech in Iowa? Could they have actually missed “Hardball”?
I don’t mean to suggest Rubio is less popular than the polls here say. This isn’t an #unskew argument. A new Suffolk poll released Friday has Rubio surging, gaining on Trump. And I eventually found some Rubio supporters. I even found people who perfectly fit my narrative — that they liked the Christies and the Kasichs, but Rubio was their guy. I only had to go to a Marco Rubio rally to find them.
What I want to suggest, however, is this: There are still a lot of New Hampshire voters who are going to support the candidate they feel strongest about, despite a seemingly hopeless position in the polls.
If you believe the polls — and I see no compelling reason not to — Rubio is going to come out of New Hampshire ordained as the establishment candidate. I’m just not sure the bandwagon effect is as strong as Rubio’s campaign is making it out to be.
On Friday, the campaign moved an event from a middle school cafeteria to the gymnasium, citing “Marcomentum.”
And at that rally, I heard plenty of voters tell me they want to pick a winner, someone who is viable, someone who can beat Trump and Hillary Clinton.
But having spent the first 22 years of my life in New Hampshire, I’m familiar with the fierce independence of Granite State voters. As Howard Fineman pointed out in a piece Friday, voters here like to defy the conventional wisdom. And as these voters reminded me again and again, seeing candidates, shaking their hands, asking questions, taking pictures with them, and even withstanding a convenient Beltway narrative — none of that seemed to have much of an impact on who they were voting for.
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