Rubio was in Iowa this past weekend where he met with leading Republicans in Hardin County, smack dab in the middle of the state. As Republicans look to flip the Senate in November, Rubio continues to go to bat for Joni Ernst against Democrat Bruce Braley. No doubt about it, Rubio is starting to look hard at Iowa as he ponders 2016.
Ernst has been able to count on Rubios support in recent months. Even before she won the primary, Rubio threw his weight behind her -- a bit of a risk since she faced a competitive primary. Other possible Republican presidential candidates, like defending Iowa caucus champ Rick Santorum and Rick Perry, got behind other candidates.
But Iowa isnt exactly natural territory for Rubio. Religious and social conservatives remain in the drivers seat when it comes to shaping Republican contests. Rubio has been getting his conservative credentials in order lately, speaking out against abortion and in defense of traditional marriage at Catholic University last month. But, with his support of immigration reform, Rubio doesnt seem as natural a fit for Iowa as some of the other candidates.
In recent years, Iowa has upended GOP presidential front-runners. Last time out, thanks to his laser-like focus and meeting voters across the state, Santorum edged Mitt Romney in a major shocker. Back in 2008, Mike Huckabee upset Romney to win the Iowa caucus. Even in 2000, while George W. Bush won, Steve Forbes took 31 percent, and almost a quarter of caucus voters backed the likes of Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer. Before that, Pat Buchanan took a major bite out of Bob Dole in 1996 and Pat Robertson even beat out George H.W. Bush for second place in 1988.
Thats not exactly comforting history for Rubio who will be outflanked on the right by some of his Republican rivals come 2016. But Rubio has one thing going for him. In 2010, when he caught Charlie Crist in the Senate primary and eventually drove him out of the GOP, Rubio showed he could work the Republican grassroots with the best of them. Its something that could pay dividends for him in Iowa come 2016. Politicians ranging from Santorum to Jimmy Carter started a grassroots fire in Iowa. Rubio would be advised to try something similar if he decides to run.
Rubios not the only potential presidential candidate thinking hard about Iowa. Perry, for example, continues to work the state and hes getting much better reviews this time around than he did back in his last-minute and sometimes disastrous 2012 bid.
Iowas probably not as friendly ground for Rubio as other early primary states like, obviously, Florida, South Carolina and even New Hampshire. But he cant afford to have a poor showing there. As George H.W. Bush and Mike Dukakis showed in 1988, a bronze medal in Iowa doesnt kill off candidates so far from home. Rubio might be looking only to survive in Iowa and the work he is doing now out there could pay off in the long haul.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.