Rubio says yes to another Senate run after all
Courtesy of The Miami Herald
Patricia Mazzei, Amy Sherman and Mary Ellen Klas
July 9, 2016
Ending weeks of political speculation, Marco Rubio
announced Wednesday he has changed his mind and will run for re-election
to the U.S. Senate, reversing his pledge to return to private life after
his presidential campaign collapsed three months ago.
His decision could give Republicans an edge in one of the most
competitive Senate races in the country — and keep Rubio in the public
eye ahead of the next presidential election in 2020.
Rubio cited a sense of duty to try to remain in Congress under either
President Donald Trump or President Hillary Clinton, two candidates he
“No matter who’s
elected president, there’s reason to worry. If it’s
Hillary Clinton, you know we’re going to have four more
years of the same failed economic policies, four more
years of the same failed foreign policy,” he told the
Miami Herald. “The prospect of a Trump presidency is
also worrisome to me in many ways.”
Rubio has said he’ll vote for Trump. If Trump wins,
Rubio said that as a senator he would “encourage him in
the right direction, but if it’s necessary, stand up to
“It’s no secret that I have significant disagreements
with Donald,” he said. “And his positions on many key
issues are unknown, and many of the statements —
especially about women and minorities — are statements
that I find not just offensive but unacceptable.”
Republicans fearful of losing Senate control to
Democrats mounted a campaign to keep Rubio on the ballot
for Florida’s swing seat. He consented just two days
before Friday’s qualifying deadline, pointing to the
Senate’s “check and balance on the excesses of the
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio answers questions from
the press after paying his respects to the victims of the Pulse
nightclub shooting in Orlando last week.
He made no commitments about his future ambitions, declining to say if
he’d serve a full, six-year term — or run again for president in 2020 or
“What I’m done making is unequivocal statements about anything at this
point,” he said. “I don’t even know who the next president’s going to
be. But I will say this to you: If I wanted to run for president in
2020, running for re-election in 2016 was probably not the best choice
to make politically.”
Rubio’s decision carries some political risk. He has only a couple of
months to organize a campaign and pitch himself again to voters, some of
whom start casting ballots in July for the Aug. 30 primary. If he wins,
he could substantially boost his chance to become a future presidential
candidate. If he loses, he undermines his political career with two
major failures in a single year, perhaps forcing him to abandon his
White House ambitions.
“It’s never been a goal of mine to lose two elections in a year,” Rubio
said. “It’s going to be a tough race. I have no illusions about that.”
Rubio’s announcement quickly upended the GOP primary contest to replace
him: Two of his would-be rivals, Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera
and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, left the race, with DeSantis choosing to run
for re-election instead. Two other competitors, Sarasota developer
Carlos Beruff and Orlando defense contractor Todd Wilcox, remain —
though Rubio became the instant front-runner.
With his widespread name recognition and broad donor network, Rubio
would pose a stiffer challenge to the leading Democratic candidates,
U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter and Alan Grayson of Orlando, who
had benefited from the lack of a GOP leader. Rubio’s announcement came
within hours of the release of a new Quinnipiac University poll that
showed he’s the only Republican with a shot at defeating Grayson or
Murphy in November, when the electorate will likely skew Democratic.
Democrats accused Rubio of playing politics with the crucial seat.
“Marco Rubio abandoned his constituents, and now he’s treating them like
a consolation prize,” Murphy said in a statement. “From missing the most
votes of any Florida senator in nearly 50 years, to seeking to ban
abortion even in cases of rape or incest, to repeatedly voting against
closing the terrorist gun loophole, Rubio is proving he is only out for
Grayson’s campaign manager, Mike Ceraso, in a statement called Rubio “No
Show Marco,” a reference to the senator’s many missed votes while on the
Rubio had been adamant after his presidential bid failed that he would
not return to Washington, which he has disdained as dysfunctional and
ineffective. The 45-year-old seemed intent on a spending a few lucrative
years in the private sector.
Yet his reversal is hardly surprising.
Rubio went back to Capitol Hill after his crushing March 15 loss in the
Florida primary with renewed interest in the job — and an aggressive
public-relations campaign to highlight it. He granted numerous
interviews about his work. He traveled extensively in Florida, focusing
on issues such as Everglades restoration and Zika prevention. And he
repeated over and over again, often unprompted, that he didn’t “hate”
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the National
Republican Senatorial Committee took it all as a sign that Rubio might
be open to their overtures.
In interviews, Rubio started sounding increasingly like a man sitting
out the race chiefly because his friend was in it — not because he
wasn’t interested. “Maybe,” he told CNN in May.
Then, after last week’s massacre of 49 people at an Orlando nightclub,
Rubio told a radio talk-show host he’d been given “pause” to reconsider
his Senate role. He met with Lopez-Cantera, who gave Rubio the go-ahead
to run. “Had that conversation not happened,” Rubio said of his talk
with Lopez-Cantera, “this conversation we’re having now would have never
On Monday, Rubio voted against a measure to block gun sales to suspected
Democrats charged Rubio with using the mass shooting to neatly justify
his political plans. Rubio, who was careful not to mention the tragedy
in the Herald interview, said Orlando made him think, “Where is it that
you want to be in life, and what do you find rewarding?”
Though Rubio seemed to deliberately position himself so he could seek
re-election, he and his friends contend the move was never calculated
and the timing wasn’t opportunistic. Until just a couple of weeks ago,
they say, Rubio had no intention to return to the Senate. Several
friends said when Rubio started reconsidering, they advised him to stick
to his original plan.
“He’s got four kids under the age of 16,” said Miami-Dade County
Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, who served with Rubio in the Florida
House of Representatives. “Politically it’s probably the riskiest thing
he could do.... It’s no shoo-in for Marco.”
He made up his mind with his family over Father’s Day weekend, Rubio
said. The senator, who’s always had a knack for building political
suspense, extended the drama by taking until Wednesday to make an
announcement. His backers had said they expected a decision by Sunday.
Then Monday. Then Tuesday.
The prolonged intrigue set off a flurry of political dominoes among
U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores left the Senate race Friday and
will instead seek re-election to his St. Petersburg congressional seat,
challenging former Gov. Charlie Crist in a redrawn district that now
favors Democrats. DeSantis, of Ponte Vedra Beach, will run again in
Florida’s 6th congressional district. Lopez-Cantera, of Miami, will
remain lieutenant governor.
“He’s doing this for the greater good,” Lopez-Cantera said Wednesday.
“Before today, I was our best chance to keep the seat Republican. But if
Marco runs then he’s our best chance. That’s more important.”
He urged Beruff and Wilcox to leave the race. Beruff and Wilcox, though
— who are both independently wealthy — say they’re prepared to challenge
Rubio in the primary.
Beruff has indicated he’s prepared to tar Rubio, who was a tea-party
favorite when he was first elected to office in 2010, as part of the
Republican establishment that many voters now disdain.
“Career politicians like Marco Rubio worry more about keeping the job
than doing the job, and are constantly looking for their next political
promotion,” Beruff said in a statement Wednesday.
Outside of Beruff and Wilcox, however, Florida GOP leaders and
down-ballot candidates were giddy at the prospect of having Rubio back
on the ticket. They see Rubio, the only Senate candidate who has run
statewide, as a buffer to Trump in Florida. The presumptive GOP nominee
has seen his popularity fall in recent polls, and party leaders worry he
could be a drag on state and local races.
Clinton leads Trump 47-39 percent in Florida, a Quinnipiac poll released
Tuesday showed — her largest lead since the pollster starting asking
voters about a Clinton-Trump match-up in 2015.
“I’m very encouraged by the news Sen. Rubio will seek re-election,” said
state Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, who is hoping to become House
speaker from 2018-2020. “His decision will have important ramifications
on the election and, more importantly, on our ability to appoint a
Supreme Court justice who will hold to our Constitution.”
Political groups plan to spend tens of millions of dollars in the
Florida Senate race. Rubio will have to start fundraising from scratch.
As of the end of May, he had only about $24,000 left over in his
presidential campaign account and was about $1.9 million in debt.
But major Republican groups are also expected to step in to help Rubio.
That’s part of the promise party leaders made in courting him for
“There is literally one person in America who has the ability to
dramatically increase the chances of Republicans keeping the majority —
Marco Rubio,” said Steven Law, president of the Senate Leadership Fund
and a former McConnell chief of staff. “If Marco’s in for Florida, we’re
in for Florida, it’s just that simple.”