The stakes were high, and all eyes were on the two 44-year-old Senators, who are rising in the polls and garnering the most attention in the non-Trump coverage of the 2016 election cycle.
Sheldon Adelson was in the room. After all, the debate was held at his hotel and these two rising stars – Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio – are running neck-in-neck in public opinion polls, but also in his 2016 primary.
In the first two rounds between Rubio and Cruz, the Florida Senator came across as more detailed and affixed on his plan to fight ISIS and restore American leadership in the world, and his foreign policy approach was more appealing to the hawks and the neo-cons in the Republican Party. Rubio also took issue with Cruz over his vote against the Defense Authorization Act, which “by the way, funds the Iron Dome and other important programs.” This could be viewed as an indirect hint that Cruz is not as strong in his support for Israel’s security.
But then came round three. Unlike previous debates, Cruz, and Senator Rand Paul, took it directly to Rubio on his past stance in supporting a legal pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
From the outset it seemed that Cruz won that round, clearly putting Rubio on the defensive with Iowa voters and a base weary of his general-election-appeal position. However, in the money game – in the race to win the coveted endorsement of Adelson, Cruz, once again, failed to land a punch or convince the casino mogul that Rubio is not a safe bet.
Many might suggest that Adelson is a one-issue guy when it comes to vetting the candidates who seek his support. But, like others, he also wants to support a candidate that has a chance to win the election – both the primaries and the general election. Since Cruz and Rubio are both very pro-Israel, Adelson could look towards other issues to tip the scales. And it seems that on the issue of immigration, Rubio and Sheldon share the same view. In an Op-Ed penned for Politico Magazine in 2014, Adelson wrote, “While I do not practice or promote illegal behavior, the reality is that 11 million illegal immigrants are currently in this country. Poll after poll shows the majority of Americans support immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship. So, let’s put the political nitpicking aside and deal with the situation.”
“Let us determine a long-term path to citizenship that is unambiguous,” he pleaded. “Let’s reassure all of those who came before us and are now looking down from above that the principles undergirding America’s foundations live on.”
Adelson’s stance is similar to what Rubio suggested during the debate. “I am personally open – after ten years in that probationary status where all they have is a permit – to allowing people to apply for a green card. That may not be a majority position in my party, but that’s down the road,” Rubio stated.
This debate may go on as the weeks go by, and it may even propel Cruz to the top in Iowa if the assault on Rubio’s 2013 position sustains. But at least in the “Adelson primary,” Rubio is clearly seen as the frontrunner, in addition to an upper hand on a rational view on immigration reform. Nothing that Cruz says or does over the next few weeks may change that.