MIAMI, March 15 (Reuters) - Marco Rubio had all that you need in a Republican presidential candidate: fluency on the issues, a conservative outlook, crossover appeal as a Cuban-American, and youthful good looks.
But in an election year when anyone associated with the Republican establishment is seen as tainted, Rubio ended his campaign after New York real estate mogul Donald Trump won the coveted primary, or nominating contest, in Rubio's home state of Florida on Tuesday.
"This may not have been the year for a hopeful and optimistic message about our future," Rubio told supporters as he announced his decision.
Click through images from Marco Rubio's campaign:
Marco Rubio on the campaign trail
How Rubio's campaign failed
IN FLIGHT - FEBRUARY 10: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) talks with reporters on his charter flight from Manchester-Boston Regional Airport February 10, 2016 en route to Spartanburg, South Carolina. Rubio placed fifth in the New Hampshire primary, behind fellow GOP candidates Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Donald Trump, who swept away the competition with 35-percent of the vote. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
MT PLEASANT, SC - JANUARY 13: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) greets guests during a campaign rally at the Water Dog Grill on January 13, 2016 in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Tomorrow Rubio will join other candidates seeking the Republican nomination for president for a debate at the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center in North Charleston, S.C.. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and 2016 presidential candidate, waits to speak during a town hall meeting at the Maytag Innovation Center in Newton, Iowa, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015. Rubio found himself under siege on two fronts Tuesday over his attendance record in the U.S. Senate as the Florida lawmaker embarked on a swing through snowy Iowa. Photographer: Scott Morgan/Bloomberg via Getty Images
MIAMI BEACH, FL - NOVEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) greets people before speaking during a community rally for 'Never Again' which was bringing attention to what the organizers say is a rise in worldwide anti-Semitism and the campaign against Israel's right to exist on November 15, 2015 in Miami Beach, Florida. Rubio continues to campaign for the Republican party's nomination. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA - NOVEMBER 21: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to guests during a town hall meeting on November 21, 2015 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Yesterday Rubio participated in the Presidential Family Forum in Des Moines with six of his Republican rivals for the nomination. Rubio has several campaign stops scheduled in the state today. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio speaks at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council meetings in Washington, DC, November 16, 2015. AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 12: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at the Sunshine Summit opening dinner at Disney's Contemporary Resort on November 12, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.The dinner is the kick-off of a three-day event that will draw thousands of Republicans, mostly to hear live speeches from all the GOP presidential candidates on Friday and Saturday. (Photo by Tom Benitez - Pool/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 13: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during the Sunshine Summit conference being held at the Rosen Shingle Creek on November 13, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. The summit brought Republican presidential candidates in front of the Republican voters. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and 2016 presidential candidate, speaks during a campaign rally at the Country Springs Hotel in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, U.S., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. Rubio will appear at Tuesday's Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
CONCORD, NH - NOVEMBER 05: Republican Presidential candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL) files paperwork for the New Hampshire primary at the State House on November 5, 2015 in Concord, New Hampshire. Each candidate must file paperwork to be on the New Hampshire primary ballot, which will be held February 9, 2016. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Republican Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio leaves the New Hampshire State House after filing for the state ballot November 5, 2015 in Concord, New Hampshire. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, NH - NOVEMBER 4: Republican Presidential candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL) participates in a round table discussion at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Rubio is looking for a bump in the polls following a strong outing in the last debate. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
GREENVILLE, SC - SEPTEMBER 18: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to voters at the Heritage Action Presidential Candidate Forum September 18, 2015 in Greenville, South Carolina. Eleven republican candidates each had twenty five minutes to talk to voters Friday at the Bons Secours Wellness arena in the upstate of South Carolina. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at Civic Hall about the 'sharing economy' on October 6, 2015 in New York City. Rubio, who has been experiencing a slight uptick in the polls after strong debate performances, has a second book out in paperback this Tuesday called American Dream: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 26: GOP Presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., holds a town hall meeting in Londonderry, N.H., on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 18: Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (L) (R-FL) mans the grill with U.S. Rep. David Young (R) (R-IA) at the Iowa Pork Producers Pork Tent during the Iowa State Fair on August 18, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates are addressing attendees at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox stage and touring the fairgrounds. The State Fair runs through August 23. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - August 17: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., greets supporters during a Family Night event at Dean Park in Ankeny, Iowa, Monday, August 17, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 14: Marco Rubio gives speach for the Foreign Policy Initiative at 3 West Club on August 14, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Steve Sands/WireImage)
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 06: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) participates in the first prime-time presidential debate hosted by FOX News and Facebook at the Quicken Loans Arena August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The top-ten GOP candidates were selected to participate in the debate based on their rank in an average of the five most recent national political polls. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 05: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) greets guests gathered for a campaign event at Town Hall on August 5, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. Rubio is in Cleveland to participate in the Fox News GOP presidential candidate debate scheduled to take place tomorrow evening. The top ten polling Republican candidates were chosen to participate in the debate. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, smiles while speaking during a rally at Town Hall restaurant ahead of the Fox News Republican Presidential Primary Debate in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Rubio will appear on stage with 9 other presidential candidates for the first Republican presidential debate tomorrow evening while former Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal didn't make the cut. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and 2016 presidential candidate, speaks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's 'Road to Majority' legislative luncheon in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, June 18, 2015. The annual Faith & Freedom Coalition Policy Conference gives top-tier presidential contenders as well as long shots a chance to compete for the large evangelical Christian base in the crowded Republican primary contest. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
BOONE, IA - JUNE 06: Republican presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) waits his turn to speak at a Roast and Ride event hosted by freshman Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) on June 6, 2015 in Boone, Iowa. Ernst is hoping the event, which featured a motorcycle tour, a pig roast, and speeches from several 2016 presidential hopefuls, becomes an Iowa Republican tradition. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
GREENVILLE, SC - MAY 09: Republican Presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) greets supporters at the Freedom Summit on May 9, 2015 in Greenville, South Carolina. Rubio joined eleven other potential candidates in addressing the event hosted by conservative group Citizens United. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 17: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 17, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - APRIL 13: Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida makes a formal announcement that he is entering the 2016 Presidential race at the Freedom Tower on April 13, 2015 in Miami, Florida. (Photos by Charles Ommanney for the Washington Post)
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BACK TO SLIDE
How the 44-year-old U.S. senator got to this point is a story of miscalculations and missed opportunities, according to interviews with more than a dozen campaign officials, financial donors and Republican strategists.
Rubio attempted to position himself as a new-age Republican, the son of Cuban immigrants who was able to connect with everyday voters with tales of his hard-luck upbringing. He also tried to appeal to America's growing Hispanic population to help boost his party's chances of claiming victory in the Nov. 8 election.
He got off to a difficult start.
His advisers wanted to run a campaign where it made more sense to be on Fox News, a channel popular with Republicans, or on other cable networks and local broadcasters whose clips can go viral on social media, rather than spend a lot of time in small towns in Iowa and New Hampshire. The early nominating contests there often shape the narrative and direction of presidential elections.
So Rubio made a strategic gamble. He would try a different approach in those two states, strategists familiar with his campaign said. He would try to save time and money by making strategic stops in those states rather than carpet-bomb them with multiple visits.
'HE COULD HAVE DONE IT'
It would be a break from the usual playbook of White House hopefuls that says candidates should saturate Iowa and New Hampshire with town halls and other events and aim for early wins to garner media coverage and campaign donations and build momentum.
Rubio's gamble backfired. Republican activists in Iowa complained he was largely absent from the state for long stretches, not spending the face-to-face time necessary to sell himself. He only made an all-out push in the late stages of the race.
Throughout the campaign, Rubio has battled perceptions that he does not work hard enough. For other candidates running for president, a voting record in the Senate would be a minor issue. But for Rubio, missing votes on the Senate floor dovetailed with the narrative that was building on the trail. If he was not in the Senate and was not on the trail, where was he?
Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said Rubio faced more than $50 million in attacks ads. "Obviously that had a massive impact. I think we could have won Iowa had it not been for the more than $25 million in attacks spent on us in Iowa alone."
Republican rival and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas tried to visit every Iowa county on a bus. Rubio tended to fly in and fly out. Polls showed he typically did better in metropolitan areas, not the hamlets than can often make or break candidates in early states.
Cruz won Iowa's caucuses on Feb. 1 with Trump second. Rubio's third-place finish was seen as something of a victory by his camp, but Republicans in the state were not so sure.
"He had a chance to win Iowa," said Jamie Johnson, a Republican activist in Iowa. As Johnson traveled the state ahead of the caucuses, voters often asked him when Rubio would visit their area, he said.
"Iowans like being visited in their home county," he explained. "If a presidential candidate wants to win in Iowa, then he must put in the shoe leather."
Rubio's team said he had tended to campaign in major population centers in Iowa in order to get the most impact from the news media.
"I was very pleased with the campaign that we ran here and I thought the national team did a very good job and I had no complaints," said Iowa state Senator Jack Whitver, who was the head of Rubio's Iowa campaign.
NO-SHOW AT DINNERS
Rubio heard similar complaints in New Hampshire. He spent just 28 days campaigning there, about half as much as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and a fraction of the some 70 days that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Ohio Governor John Kasich were there.
Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the state Republican Party, sought to hold meet-and-greet events at his home for each candidate. Candidates such as Bush and Kasich took him up on it. Rubio did not. Cullen eventually aligned himself with Kasich, who went on to finish second to Trump in the state.
"There were a lot of opinion leaders - key endorsers who end up on a candidate's delegate list - who were interested in Rubio but never got to meet him or have those small-group, private meetings that result in commitments," Cullen said.
Renee Plummer, a real-estate developer and an influential conservative activist in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, who hosted more than 10 Republican candidates for intimate dinners with local leaders, said she tried to schedule Rubio three separate times to no avail. She eventually threw her support behind Christie.
'LACK OF STATURE'
Rubio faced another problem: a perception that he could only muster well-worn talking points.
At a July 6, 2015, dinner at a Chicago steakhouse with reporters, he appeared relaxed and knowledgeable. But as the campaign intensified, that Rubio appeared less and less frequently, replaced by a candidate who seemed able only to deliver canned lines and talking points.
Christie's campaign noticed. Days before the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary, Christie caught Rubio in repeat mode during a debate, calling him robotic and scripted. It affirmed some voters' doubts that he lacked depth. Rubio never quite recovered.
"What happened to Marco in New Hampshire struck a responsive chord," said John "Mac" Stipanovich, a prominent Florida lobbyist who first supported Bush and then switched to Rubio. "It crystallized that lack of stature."
Trump's unrelenting dominance of the media spotlight made it hard for rivals to shine. But Rubio's decision, starting with a debate in Houston on Feb. 25, to try to match Trump insult for insult was cited by voters as another wrong move. Rubio has since said he regretted the negative turn.
A campaign source said it was Rubio who made the ultimate decision to switch gears and attack Trump personally, motivated in part by a desire to win more media coverage. It worked. At a rally in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Monday, he ruefully noted that when he was engaged in his war of insults with Trump, CNN and other networks carried his events live, something they had not done before.
That was, in a nutshell, the problem. Months of wall-to- wall news coverage of Trump decimated Rubio's strategy of using free-media avenues.
"You can't out-Trump Trump," said Rubio supporter Jim Bundstein in Florida.
'NOTHING BUT AMNESTY'
For some, the roots of Rubio's problems can be traced back further to an icy afternoon in Washington on Jan. 28, 2013. That is when he held a news conference with three Democratic senators and a Republican on Capitol Hill to launch immigration reforms.
The legislation, sponsored by what became known as a bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators, would have created a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but only if steps were taken to secure the U.S. southern border with Mexico and strengthen visa tracking.
Rubio had already faced conservative anger when flirting with immigration reform a year earlier, when he proposed a path to citizenship for young people who came to the country illegally but would join the military.
Conservative columnist Ann Coulter derided those ideas as "nothing but amnesty" for lawbreakers.
The "Gang of Eight" bill ran into similar resistance. As Rubio distanced himself from it, Hispanic groups faulted him for giving up.
In a Republican primary race where Trump has thrilled many conservatives by vowing to deport immigrants and build a wall on the Mexican border, Rubio's involvement in the legislation and sudden abandonment of it haunted his 2016 campaign.
It was the centerpiece of attack ads by his rivals and the independent fundraising groups supporting them.
At a rally in Tampa, Florida, on Monday, Trump said of the senator: "He's weak on immigration. He's very weak on amnesty. I don't know how he got elected." (Editing by Jason Szep, Ross Colvin and Peter Cooney)