MIAMI (AP) — Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump dismissed polls that show him trailing Dr. Ben Carson in Iowa, calling the retired neurosurgeon “super low-energy” before a boisterous crowd in Miami on Friday night.
The Iowa polls are a rare setback for the billionaire businessman’s campaign. He’s leading polls nationally and in other early primary states.
Mimicking a television journalist reporting the breaking news of Trump slipping behind Carson, Trump ridiculed his GOP rival.
“We informed Ben, but he was sleeping,” Trump joked. The crowd roared.
He also said the polls in Iowa “are wrong” and said most pollsters “don’t like me at all.”
Trump, who will also appear at a rally in Jacksonville Saturday, maintained his usual swagger, boasting about his poll numbers in other states — especially in Florida, where he is ahead of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio.
Trump spoke not far from Bush’s sprawling Miami headquarters the same day Bush’s campaign said that it would be drastically slashing campaign spending, including an across-the-board pay cut for staff, and focusing more narrowly on early states.
In Florida polls, Trump remains far ahead of Bush, the state’s former two-term governor, and Rubio, the state’s junior senator since 2011.
A University of North Florida poll of likely Republican primary voters out this week found Trump with the support of 22 percent. Carson, who also lives in the state, had 19 percent. Rubio was third with 15 percent and Bush fourth with 9 percent.
Trump is hoping to maintain that advantage with a heavy investment in Florida, even though it doesn’t hold its winner-take-all primary until March 15. Trump’s team announced Friday that Joe Gruters, the vice chair of the Florida Republican Party, will serve as his Florida campaign chair, while Susan Wiles, who managed Gov. Rick Scott’s winning 2010 campaign, will serve as co-chair.
The campaign is also planning to open a Sarasota office in early November, said Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
That puts him ahead of many of his rivals, including Rubio and Carson, who have yet to open offices in the state.
Alex Conant, Rubio’s campaign spokesman, played down the Florida numbers, saying “polls don’t matter at this stage.”
Rubio has been “up and down in the polls, and he’s currently rising,” said Conant.
He said the campaign will soon come out with leadership teams in each of the state’s 67 counties and Rubio has made recent campaign stops in the state.
While Trump has never taken up residence in Florida, he has a home in Palm Beach as well as several business ventures, and is well-known in philanthropic circles.
Longtime operatives and pollsters in the state say that, like many potential voters nationwide, many Republicans in Florida are looking for a change. That sentiment was evident at Trump’s loud rally.
“We need someone strong to lead the country and Trump is the one,” said Fabian Sardinas, a 41-year old Cuban-American from Miami.
Sporting a “Pink Slip Rubio” T-shirt, Jack Oliver, 65, of Floridians for Immigration Enforcement, said Trump as the only GOP candidate who will “do something about illegal immigration.”
“Establishment Republicans have thumbed their nose at us for years,” he said. “We’ve had it.”
Bush said this week on CNN that Trump is “capturing people’s deep anger and angst about Washington, D.C.” He predicted Trump’s support will wane after voters consider “who has the judgment and the seriousness and the ideas to be president.”
Trump’s visit to Miami also attracted about two dozen protesters, who paraded outside the entrance to Trump’s resort. Several were removed by police officers from the banquet hall after trying to shout down Trump during his speech.
Among them was Bertha Sanlés, an immigrant from Nicaragua, “He must respect Latinos,” she said outside the resort.
The Spanish-language network Univision, whose headquarters are next door to Trump’s resort, reported that its journalists were not allowed to cover the event. Fusion, an English-language network jointly owned by Univision and ABC, also reported its staff was denied entry, even though they said the Trump campaign had earlier approved its media credentials.
“Mr. Trump is suing Univision for $500 million and until that is resolved it is a conflict of interest,” said Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks.
Colvin reported from Newark, New Jersey.