- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2016

MIAMI — It was the endorsement that never came.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio met with his former mentor and GOP presidential rival Jeb Bush last week to discuss the race, and to hopefully, nab Mr. Bush’s endorsement. He walked away empty-handed.

On Tuesday, Floridians go to vote in a winner-take-all state, where business-mogul Donald Trump is dominating in the polls. Analysts are now wondering whether Mr. Rubio can even come in second, ahead of Sen. Ted Cruz.

And Mr. Bush, the state’s former governor, has remained on the sidelines, marking the souring of a political alliance that stretched back for years.

“You can’t hit me with a baseball bat today and want to play ball with me tomorrow,” said Mac Stipanovich, Florida executive director for Reagan-Bush 1984, of Mr. Rubio’s request for an endorsement from his former mentor. “Jeb dropped out of the race, I’m sure that he’s still in reflection on what happened, and it might be a little premature to expect him to jump back into the arena.”

Their friendship started back in 1998 when Mr. Rubio was running for his first political office, a seat on the West Miami City Commission, and Mr. Bush, running for governor, sent Mr. Rubio a $50 check.

Mr. Rubio rose quickly, becoming speaker of the Florida House in 2005, backing Mr. Bush’s agenda. The partnership was strong as recently as 2012, when Mr. Bush lobbied for Mr. Rubio to be on Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s presidential ticket.

But both men eyed the 2016 race, and tensions grew as they competed for the same Florida donor base.

In October, during a debate in Boulder, Colorado, Mr. Bush criticized Mr. Rubio’s Senate voting record, calling on him to campaign for president or resign because “there’s a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck in Florida as well,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Rubio hit back, hard, and silenced Mr. Bush.

“The only reason why you’re [attacking] now is because we’re running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you,” Mr. Rubio retorted.

Many Florida GOP operatives view Mr. Rubio’s run for the White House as an act of disloyalty against Mr. Bush and say if Mr. Rubio loses the state on Tuesday, his political aspirations for the future will be dampened.

One Florida political operative said Mr. Rubio had a “snowball’s chance in hell,” of getting Mr. Bush’s backing after his “ultimate betrayal” of entering the 2016 race. Mr. Rubio also probably didn’t have it in him to beg Mr. Bush, given he’d outlasted the former governor in the presidential race, the operative said.

All remaining candidates, with the exception of Mr. Trump, have met with Mr. Bush in Florida, and none has received his endorsement so far.

“The governor decided he wasn’t going to endorse anyone. He made up his mind that was the case and that’s what he’s done,” said Al Cardenas, former chairman of the Florida Republican Party who was a senior adviser and fundraiser for Mr. Bush’s 2016 bid until it was suspended.

“The governor put his heart and soul in this race, and the outcome was disappointing to him. You get emotionally drained, and you just want to stay off the grid for a while,” Mr. Cardenas said. “If you support someone, you have to go out there and work for the candidate, and I think the governor just wanted to take some time off. He has no more political aspirations beyond what he’s tried.”

Whether Mr. Bush’s endorsement would’ve helped Mr. Rubio’s chances in the Sunshine State is unknown, Mr. Stipanovich said. Mr. Rubio is well behind Mr. Trump, and endorsements haven’t been much of a boon in the campaign so far, Mr. Stipanovich said.

Mr. Cardenas agreed, saying an endorsement from Mr. Bush would’ve made more sense if the Florida race was within a few points. Instead, Mr. Trump’s lead continues to widen the closer one gets to Tuesday’s polls.

An endorsement, though, would have signaled the two men have put their animosity behind them and analysts said it might have helped to settle the Floridian political landscape.

Mr. Rubio also may have botched another endorsement request earlier in the campaign. The New York Times reported New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was deeply insulted when Mr. Rubio called him seeking an endorsement after Mr. Christie dropped out of the presidential contest.

Mr. Rubio reportedly left a voice message for Mr. Christie, telling the governor he had a bright political future. Mr. Christie, 53, found it patronizing and the two apparently haven’t spoken since. Mr. Christie went on to endorse Mr. Trump.

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