TAMPA — "It all comes down to Florida," Marco Rubio tweeted Sunday.
And indeed, on the eve of Florida's winner-take-all primary, the state's native son, 44, is holding on in a last gasp to stay in the Republican presidential race.
If he loses here, his primary bid is all but over, and the forecast is not good with all polls showing the Florida senator lagging behind GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
The latest survey from Quinnipiac University, taken through Sunday and released Monday, shows Rubio at 22 percent to Trump's 46 percent. Trump is ahead with both men and women along with voters who describe themselves as moderate or liberal and those who identify as Tea Party members — a wide swath.
Headlines across the Sunshine State Monday noted that the Rubio camp is now looking for a miracle and fighting for its do-or-die moment after months of optimism from the Miami lawmaker that this was his time to lead his increasingly fractured party. Thus far, however, Rubio, who most recently won the Washington, D.C. caucuses, holds just 164 bound delegates, trailing Ted Cruz with 368 and Trump with 464.
Polls have not always been correct. In Michigan, for example, they showed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton taking the state with ease, but opponent Bernie Sanders pulled out a last-minute victory over the former Secretary of State, exposing the unwieldy nature of the electorate in a primary cycle that has been by all accounts brutal.
Pundits note that Rubio has hit his stride of late in messaging and tone after some name-calling against Trump, which he later apologized for. But until a big spike in the past two days, some his recent rallies were drawing low turnout, far from the glitz of Trump's massive anti-establishment crowds, including thousands who turned out at the Tampa Convention Center Monday afternoon, where the real-estate mogul seemed energized.
Without Florida, Rubio's path ahead seems uncertain. His followers tout a possible surge from the more than two million Floridans who have cast early votes.
Still, Rubio battled back on Monday morning, telling Jacksonville supporters gathered at the Maple Street Biscuit Co.: "Tomorrow's the day when we're going to shock the country." He also held events in Melbourne and on his home turf of West Miami.
During his rally at the Tampa Convention Center, Trump was introduced by Sarah Palin and endorsed by Florida Attorney Gen. Pam Bondi.
Trump described himself as a "common sense conservative." And he joked about family telling him to be more "presidential." Even as he campaigned in Florida, he chided Gov. John Kasich's handling of Ohio's economy and his record on free trade.
Trump also acknowledged the fierce ad campaign being waged in Florida.
Across Florida, the airways were jammed with attack ads Monday — an ad buy of more than $12 million in 10 markets statewide, CBC noted, citing an analysis by Kantar Media — taking up almost all airtime, with many ads directed at Trump.
At least $1.75 million was spent by the non-profit American Future Fund against Trump and another $1 million came from the anti-Trump Our Principles PAC.
Trump himself told of seeing some of the ads while watching a golf tournament at his country club in Doral, Florida. "Every time there is a commercial, it's about me, what a horrible human being," Trump said. "They are such false commercials. They make up whatever they want to do. I've never seen anything like it, the barrage."
He noted that the message, however, wasn't sticking. "The people of this country are smart. They get it," Trump said.
A total of 99 delegates are at stake in Florida on Tuesday, while primary voters also head to the polls in Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri.