“Jeb and Rubio have pretty much the same immigration positions, but Rubio is much more effective in obfuscating what they are and marketing them to conservatives,” said Krikorian. “Jeb is a less adroit politician. He just comes out and says what he thinks. … Rubio is better at deflecting and hiding what he really thinks and wants on immigration.” Krikorian posited that Rubio could win back support from the right by categorically rejecting any legal status until border security measures such as E-Verify and an entry-exit tracking system are fully operational.

Republicans who plan to vote for Rubio aren’t particularly bothered by his immigration position—some don’t understand it—and many don’t view the issue as a high priority.

“That’s one thing I haven’t paid a lot of attention to with him, mostly because I don’t think anybody’s going to get anything done,” said Kim Rodgers, 58, of Davenport, Iowa. Rubio’s openness to a path to citizenship is “probably OK, I think,” she said.

Beth Ann Schumacher, 61, a retired social studies teacher, listened to Rubio field questions on immigration in Mason City, Iowa over the weekend. “I think it still probably needs to be refined more,” Schumacher said of Rubio’s assertion that people who come to the U.S. want to work and become a part of this country. “But it was better than what I’d heard before.”