Reports of Marco Rubio’s eagerness to leave the Senate may be greatly exaggerated.
After weeks of private lobbying, the Florida Republican senator now says he is considering running again. He has until June 24, his state’s filing deadline, to make up his mind.
Rubio announced in April 2015 that he would not run for re-election to pursue his presidential bid. But his campaign never caught fire and he bowed out of the primaries after a disappointing finish in the Florida presidential primary.
Rubio’s wavering is upending the dynamics in one of 2016’s top Senate races that will determine the makeup of the Senate next year.
Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., one of 12 Republicans currently vying for the GOP nomination to replace Rubio, told reporters he will make a Friday announcement on his own future campaign plans. Jolly candidly admitted that he believed Rubio would relent to pressure and run again. Jolly said he was debating three options for himself: retire, run again for his House seat, or stay in the Senate race.
The latter option is unlikely, as Jolly has previously said that if Rubio gets back in, he would support him.
Rubio told reporters this week that he was indeed considering a run for a second term, after weeks of vowing that he was ready to become a private citizen again.
He said the mass shootings in Orlando have challenged his decision to retire. Rubio reportedly huddled in Orlando with Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a Rubio ally who is also running in the GOP primary to replace him. In an interview with Politico, Lopez-Cantera said he urged Rubio to reverse course and run again.
GOP leaders and strategists are eager for Rubio to jump back in the race because they believe he is the best candidate to help Republicans hold the seat in a critical battleground state. He is well-known and can raise the kind of money necessary to be competitive in a state like Florida. The current GOP bench of candidates lacks a clear front-runner and Democrats see it as a prime pickup opportunity.
Democrats’ favored candidate is House Democrat Patrick Murphy, who is in a primary race against another House Democrat, Alan Grayson. Florida’s primary elections are Aug. 30.
If Rubio runs again, he still faces a lot of hurdles. First, he must win the primary in a state with a split GOP electorate that rejected him in the presidential primary: he lost by almost 20 points to Donald Trump.
He also doesn’t have a clear shot at the nomination. Other GOP candidates, like former CIA agent Todd Wilcox and wealthy developer Carlos Beruff, have said they will stay in the race if Rubio runs again. Beruff has already spent millions of his own fortune running campaign ads.
If Rubio secures the nomination, the general election campaign promises to be one of the marquee Senate battles this November as long as Murphy wins the nomination. (Democratic party leaders, like Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., view Grayson as too toxic to win statewide.)
Rubio won his first term in 2010 — a watershed year for the GOP — and in a midterm election year in which the older, whiter electorate favored Republicans.
The 2016 presidential race is the backdrop for an intriguing electoral mix in the Florida Senate race, in which the Republican candidate will have to balance Donald Trump at the top of the ticket with efforts to woo the state’s influential Hispanic voters.
The latest polling shows Trump’s approval ratings among Hispanics in the low double-digits.