The filing deadline for major party candidates in Florida is June 24th. With that deadline approaching, there is reported mounting pressure on incumbent Republican Senator and failed presidential candidate Marco Rubio to seek reelection. For his part, in interviews with CNN and in reports from Politico, Rubio has been somewhat cagey in his responses leaving some to believe that his is actually leaving the door open to reelection.
Florida is obviously a swing state when it comes to Presidential politics and although they have a Republican legislature and a Republican Governor, not to mention many Republican statewide elected officials, the “open” Senate race in the state is of obvious importance. There are 12 declared Republican candidates vying for Rubio’s seat. They include two sitting Congressmen, the current Lt. Governor of the state, two outside candidates one of which is a wealthy donor to GOP causes and candidates, and a former US House candidate.
The pressure for Rubio to seek reelection is coming from all sides. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has let it be publicly known that he is encouraging Rubio to run. The highly popular state CFO Jeff Atwater is also encouraging Rubio and many conservative PACs have also said they would commit to a Rubio reelection effort. The Atwater endorsement of Rubio is particularly interesting since many pundits believed that had Atwater sought Rubio’s seat, he would have cleared the candidate field. His eyes may be on the Governor’s office in 2018.
Although there is some confusion, 13th District Representative Dave Jolly, whose House district was redrawn more favorable to the Democrats, has been the front runner in polling thus far, although not by much in any poll. There is added pressure on Jolly to drop out of the race and seek reelection to his House seat against former Republican Charlie Crist who is likely to win the Democratic Party’s nod in the 13th District. Currently, there are no really strong candidates on the Republican side to challenge Crist in the fall. For his part, Jolly has publicly stated he would withdraw from the Senate race if Rubio entered.
With the other current US Representative, Ron DeSantis, the dynamics are more complex. Unlike the 13th, DeSantis’ 6th District has attracted 6 Republican candidates- two of whom are sitting members of the state house. Should Rubio enter the race and seek reelection, the chances of DeSantis would decrease and he may decide to run for reelection in the 6th. That would create a cascade effect and push out the two members of the state house- Fred Costello and David Santiago. Thus, there would likely be a domino effect.
The wealthy donor- Carlos Beruff- has let it be known in no uncertain terms that he will not leave the race if Rubio enters. The other outsider, defense contractor Ted Wilcox has characterized Rubio as a political insider and stated he would not withdraw if Rubio enters.
That leaves Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera. Rubio and Lopez-Cantera have a friendly political relationship that dates back some 16 years. Rubio has stated that Lopez-Cantera has invested time and money in this race and it should play out. But, one wonders whether Lopez-Cantera could even win this primary. Some have speculated that Rubio is setting him up for a loss thus making it harder for Lopez-Cantera to run for the open Governor’s office in 2018, although Rubio has ruled out that option for now.
The complicated and crowded primary is one major factor. Another is Rubio’s stated dislike for the Senate in a Washington Post interview in 2015. It would seem disingenuous and hypocritical to now run for a seat in a legislative body he dislikes because his presidential aspirations went up in smoke. He could conceivably walk back those comments, but they would haunt him.
Rubio has also developed many enemies in Florida politics. As one operative noted, Rubio is ambitious and skilled, but also very disloyal. He also has to mend fences with some conservative groups. Although most of this stems from his Gang of Eight participation for immigration reform, some raw emotions of betrayal on this issue obviously remain. The Club for Growth, which backed Rubio in 2010, is backing DeSantis this year. One doubts they would throw enthusiastic support to Rubio even if DeSantis withdrew.
On the other hand, the Senate Leadership Fund- a PAC tied to Mitch McConnell- said they would find it hard to support any GOP candidate except Rubio. In other words, whoever wins the GOP primary without Rubio in the race, they cannot expect help from the Senate Leadership Fund. Way to go, McConnell…conceding defeat before a vote is cast.
It should be remembered that Rubio lost his home state to Trump in a race that was not even close. An embarrassing presidential primary loss followed by the embarrassment of a highly contested Senatorial primary for a sitting Senator may be too much to bear. A Senate primary loss would be political suicide. Even assuming he got through the primary, reelection is not guaranteed as the likely Democratic candidate Patrick Murphy leads in most polls.
This is complicated by the fact that Clinton leads Trump in Florida polls thus far. For his part, Rubio has somewhat made amends with Trump after a nasty primary fight and has even suggested he will speak in his favor at the Cleveland convention. That speech, if it happens, will be closely watched.
Marco Rubio was my second choice after Scott Walker and I remain convinced that Rubio could be the face of a new Republican Party in the future. He is articulate, charismatic and a quick thinker with a positive message. Assuming Trump does, in fact, lose the presidential election, what Rubio does between November 2016 and 2020 will decide his ultimate fate. The year 2020 looms large either way. He should not risk the future because of peer pressure or personal ambition.
Rubio’s best choice would be to enjoy retirement for a bit and possibly join a think tank, academia, or a law firm if money is an issue. Another possibility, should Trump lose, is to assume leadership of the RNC. Reince Priebus is likely out whether Trump wins or loses. This would keep Rubio in the public view and relevant as we head towards 2020. By that time, the baggage he currently carries will be the news of the distant past in political time.