Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Marco Rubio: What we learned from his 2010 election

In 2010, Rubio did as well with Hispanics as he did with whites (photo: Gage Skidmore)

Henceforth begins a series where I'll take a look at what we can glean from the '16ers' most recent elections.

Obviously, stuff changes over time, but it's still helpful to see how these candidates did when they were last forced to prove their electoral appeal.

So let's get things started with Marco Rubio, who won Florida's open Senate seat in 2010.

2010 results:

Marco Rubio (R) 49%

Charlie Crist (i) 30%

Kendrick Meek (D) 20%

Here are the three big takeaways from the Florida exit polls.

1. Rubio crushed it with Hispanics.

People have long posited that Marco Rubio didn't exactly tear it up with Hispanics, and have also typically pointed to Florida's Cuban-American, fairly Republican base as an artificial stimulant that produces non-generalizable numbers for the rest of the nation.

Well, that's sort of true, but here's why Rubio's performance with Hispanics was impressive. He won 55% of both the Hispanic vote and White vote.

Thus, he performed equally as well with Whites and Hispanics.

Talk all you want about the artificial stimulant of Florida's large Cuban-American, Republican population, but Mitt Romney only pulled in 39% of Hispanics in Florida in 2012, and yet he scored 61% with whites in Florida.

That's a huge gap between Romney's numbers with Florida's whites and Hispanics -- one that Rubio entirely erased, and in a three-way race, nonetheless.

Now here's another good number for Rubio.

He scored an equal percentage of both Hispanic men and women (54% and 55%, respectively). That means he erased the intra-Hispanic gender gap, which is real elsewhere (for example, Romney did 10 percentage points better with Hispanic men than women).

So don't believe the narrative that Rubio only did well with Hispanics because all Republicans do well with Hispanics in Cuban-American heavy Florida.

Rubio did well, because he has special appeal with Hispanics.

2. Rubio didn't do particularly well with young people.

As for the youngins', Rubio laid an egg. In fact, the 18-29 year-old demographic was his worst in 2010 -- he scored just 36% with the group.

In 2012, Romney picked up 32% in that age group, and remember -- Romney was running in a high Democratic turnout year, while Rubio was in a high Republican year.

The caveat is, obviously, that Rubio was in a three-way race, but keep in mind that it was, by far, his weakest age group.

Even though you could make the theoretical argument that the youthful Rubio can connect with Millennials, he hasn't proven it at the ballot box yet.

3. Rubio had no crossover appeal to blacks.

Even by GOP standards, Rubio's performance among African-Americans was anemic. Only 6% of black men supported him, while only 3% of black women backed him.

In 2012, Mitt Romney won 5% of black men in Florida and 4% of black women, so Rubio's performance was on par with Mitt's.

The BIG caveat is that Rubio was running against two candidates who had strong appeal with African-Americans -- Charlie Crist and black congressman, Kendrick Meek.

So it's hard to say Rubio is actually less appealing to black voters than other GOP candidates, but at the same time, you can say that in 2010, he certainly wasn't more appealing.

2010 proved Rubio can perform quite well with Hispanics, but that wasn't transferable to African-Americans, and the goal for the GOP is for its first minority presidential nominee to appeal to all demos (even though a GOP nominee will likely never venture too far north of 10% with blacks).

Where he sits:

He continues to thrive, post-election.

According to TPM's poll tracker, his net approval rating has hit +10% in eight of the ten most recent polls, and he scores well across all groups.

In Quinnipiac's most recent survey (March 2013), his net approval rating with Hispanics was higher than his net approval rating with whites (+23% vs. +20%, respectively).

In Q's previous survey (December 2012), Rubio's approval rating with whites sat at +27%, so he's seen a slight dip there. Whether or not it has to do with immigration remains to be seen, but the fact is that you can say he's as popular with Florida Hispanics as Florida Whites.

And that's pretty Brave New World-y for Republicans.