As an unruly election season wears on, dragging a bleary-eyed field along with it, the candidates are struggling to stave off illness and exhaustion at a time when the calendar demands their best.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas spent a recuperative day and a half off the campaign trail, holing up in Houston after a winter spent trudging through the Iowa and New Hampshire snow.
Donald Trump, straining to muster his typical bravado, looked “uncharacteristically low-energy” while addressing reporters over the weekend, according to Mitt Romney, who has been there.
And Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, sounding hoarse and weary himself during Thursday’s Republican debate, spared his rivals a handshake afterward, setting off a medley of inelegant fist bumps and elbow touches.
“Marco is sick,” an aide, Garrett Ventry, posted on Twitter, denying that Rubio had snubbed his opponents out of malice. Indeed, a deeper diagnosis seemed to be in order.
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The Republican primary campaign has a cold.
As an unruly election season wears on, dragging a bleary-eyed field along with it, the candidates are struggling to stave off illness and exhaustion.
The customary sprints of January and February have given way to a breathless March, forcing the candidates to gird for the long haul.
It is not going well.
Mouths have been covered and tissues fetched. Surrogates with crisper voices have been recruited. Events have been scheduled and scrapped.
“Ted Cruz will not be in Mississippi tomorrow, as he evidently does not feel well,” Chris McDaniel, a state senator, wrote on Facebook. “This is difficult news to deliver, but we trust that God has a plan for the campaign and for Mississippi.”
The plan changed again on Monday: Cruz added an event in Florence, Miss., for midafternoon.
Campaign officials are loath to discuss their candidates’ health in detail, anxious that any perception of fatigue could fester. It did not take long, after all, for Trump’s “low-energy” label to stick to Jeb Bush, though Bush kept one of the busier schedules as a candidates.
A spokeswoman for Cruz declined to comment. Aides to Rubio and Trump did not respond to messages.
Trump has been zealous about projecting vitality. An unusual note from his doctor, released in December, appraised his physical strength and stamina as “extraordinary.”
But even Trump, known to detest handshakes and the maladies they might introduce, is not immune to the rigors of the trail. As election results trickled in late Saturday, he appeared somewhat understated, insulting his rivals with a bit less pizazz.
Among the remaining contenders, Cruz has long kept the most aggressive campaign schedule, reaching every county of Iowa and often packing five or six events into a day. On Friday, he touched down in Maine, Maryland and Louisiana. On Saturday, he held rallies in Kansas and Idaho.
Last week, Rubio struggled through appearances in Tennessee and Georgia, where a high-profile and able-voiced supporter, Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, stepped in to deliver most of the remarks.
Rubio took the microphone briefly to promise to “speak out until I literally have no voice left” against Trump.
At one point, Rubio suggested he was channeling a soulful crooner. “Trying to get my Barry White voice going here,” he said.
The plight appears bipartisan. Days before the 1992 election, Bill Clinton could barely speak.
“I may have lost my voice,” he told a crowd. “But with your help on Tuesday, we will win a new day for America.”
In 2004, John Kerry consumed a nightly elixir in Iowa: hot water, lemon, fresh ginger and honey.
And during Sunday’s Democratic debate, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders powered through moments of rasp. “This debate needs a lozenge,” Glenn Thrush, a Politico reporter, wrote on Twitter.
But the Republican gathering days earlier was the clear pacesetter in candidate health care and germ avoidance. As the evening ended, Rubio met Cruz’s handshake-ready open palm with a closed fist, setting off an awkward semibump.
Trump patted Rubio’s jacket, pursing his lips. Then Rubio swung a playful elbow toward Gov. John Kasich of Ohio.
“On to the general election,” a moderator said.