Young, telegenic and the proud son of Cuban immigrants, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has long been believed by many GOP leaders to be the ideal candidate to beat the Democrats in the 2016 presidential election. This assessment fueled a string of endorsements for Rubio in previous weeks.
But on Super Tuesday, Rubio placed first in only one state (Minnesota) and was the clear runner-up in just one other (Virginia). To understand why he had such a rough night, we took an in-depth look at data from NBC News Exit Polls conducted with Republican primary voters throughout the nation on Tuesday.
In some sense, GOP voters agreed with party leaders on Rubio's electability. In state after state, Republican voters who said they cared most about nominating a candidate who "can win in November" tended to prefer Rubio as their choice for the nomination. Rubio took about half of this group's votes in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia, and held his own among these voters in other states.
The problem for Rubio was that there just weren't many Republicans who said winning in November was their top priority. According to the NBC News Exit Poll, in most states, the share of GOP voters caring most about this quality reached no higher than the low- to mid-teens—not enough to deliver Rubio the Super Tuesday victories he was hoping for.