Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio spent Wednesday campaigning in New Hampshire. It was the Florida senator's first trip to the state in almost two months. Over that period, several of his rivals for the Republican nomination have logged many more miles in New Hampshire -- something Rubio himself underscored in a stop in Littleton.
“Living here in New Hampshire, you’re going to get to see a lot of candidates," Rubio said. "One out of five Republicans are running for president, so you’re gonna get the chance to talk to a lot of them.”
So why the light Granite State schedule for Rubio so far?
Dante Scala teaches political science at the University of New Hampshire. He says the size and volatility of the Republican field right now could be keeping Rubio waiting in the wings.
“I would speculate the Rubio campaign is hoping to get hot at the end," says Scala. "The game might be to do just enough right now to stay in voters' minds. Don’t pay much attention to Donald Trump or whatever else is going on this week and to make a move later after some of the other candidates have exhausted themselves.”
There are reasons to think this strategy could work for Rubio. His mix of Tea Party support, his youth, and his skill at retail politics has given him broad appeal within the Republican electorate. But it remains unclear whether New Hampshire will be the right place for Rubio to make that late push. Scala said that same broad likability Rubio enjoys may also leave him without a deep well of support in the state.
“There are relatively few people saying right now that ‘I’ll vote for Marco Rubio,’" Scala said. "But a lot of those same people will say 'I have a favorable opinion of Marco Rubio' or ‘I like Marco Rubio.’”
Gordon MacDonald is co-chair of the Rubio campaign in New Hampshire. As for the slow-but-steady approach described by Scala, MacDonald said, "at this point, that’s just fine.”
MacDonald downplayed any perceived lack of enthusiasm for New Hampshire, saying that Rubio is organizing a national campaign for a long haul.
"He’s got the fundamentals and the infrastructure in place to have staying power," MacDonald said.
Back in Littleton Wednesday, Rubio promised more visits to New Hampshire.
“We’re excited about the chance," Rubio said. "Obviously we have to do a lot of these. New Hampshire has come to expect that of its candidates and we’re looking forward to being back again.”
How early and often he comes back, could depend on the fortunes of sixteen other GOP presidential candidates.