U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio announced Wednesday that he will run for re-election this year, reversing a longstanding pledge to give up his seat and sending shock waves through Florida politics.
In the wake of Rubio’s announcement, two high-profile Republicans immediately dropped out of the Senate race, with Congressman Ron DeSantis saying he would run for re-election to his U.S. House seat. DeSantis’s district includes all of Flagler County. He was first elected to it in 2012.
DeSantis is one of three Republicans who have qualified to run for the district, along with four Democrats, with several others still listed as “active” by the state Division of Elections at midday today, the last day of qualifying.
Democrats, meanwhile, pounced on Rubio’s decision as what they called another politically craven move that would allow the first-term senator to remain relevant after losing his campaign to claim the Republican presidential nomination.
Rubio previously seemed to bristle at the difficulty of pushing legislation through the deliberative Senate, and he admitted Wednesday that he has sometimes been frustrated by the gridlock in the chamber. But in a statement spelling out why he’s running for re-election, Rubio highlighted the ability for the U.S. Senate to act as “a check and balance on the excesses of a president” — even if real-estate mogul Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, is elected over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“The prospect of a Trump presidency is also worrisome to me. … If he is elected, we will need senators willing to encourage him in the right direction, and if necessary, stand up to him. I’ve proven a willingness to do both,” said Rubio, who told reporters last month he would be willing to speak at next month’s GOP convention, which will nominate Trump.
The decision came after Republican leaders had publicly pleaded with Rubio for weeks to reconsider his earlier commitment, made during his presidential campaign, to leave the U.S. Senate when his term ends in January. The GOP faces a tough battle to hold onto its Senate majority, and the Republicans who were running to succeed Rubio struggled to gain traction in the polls.
A poll released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University underscored the dangers. According to that survey, Rubio led Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy by seven points and Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson by eight.
But both Murphy and Grayson held advantages against DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Republican outsider candidates Carlos Beruff and Todd Wilcox, according to Quinnipiac.
Despite his clout as an incumbent and former presidential candidate, Rubio fell short of clearing the field with his announcement Wednesday. DeSantis dropped out quickly, saying Rubio’s decision “changes the contours of the U.S. Senate race in Florida.” While the congressman said Rubio had a good chance of holding onto the Senate seat, he did not explicitly endorse Rubio.
Republican Congressman David Jolly, who was also running for Senate, announced last week he would run for re-election to a Pinellas County House seat.
Lopez-Cantera, a personal friend of Rubio’s, praised the incumbent in a statement Wednesday as the lieutenant governor dropped out of the race and urged the senator’s two remaining primary opponents to also leave the campaign.
“With that in mind, I encourage Carlos Beruff and Todd Wilcox to do what is right and unite behind Marco’s re-election so we can ensure that we have the best candidate with the best ability to represent all of our families in the U.S. Senate,” said Lopez-Cantera.
The other candidates didn’t seem interested in taking that advice. Beruff, a developer from Bradenton who has promised to spend some of his personal fortune if necessary to win the seat, blasted Rubio in a statement Wednesday.
“This isn’t Marco Rubio’s seat; this is Florida’s seat,” Beruff said. “The power brokers in Washington think they can control this race.Â They think they can tell the voters of Florida who their candidates are. But the voters of Florida will not obey them.”
Wilcox was slightly less pointed in his criticism of Rubio.
“I have 27 years of real world experience in national security and the economy, experience that is desperately needed in Washington now more than ever,” he said. “None of that has changed based on yet another career politician entering this race.”
The fallout could cascade further down the GOP side of the ballot. For example, eight Republicans opened campaign accounts to run for DeSantis’ U.S. House seat; by Wednesday evening, Pat Mooney had already exited the race, and others were expected to follow.
Meanwhile, Democrats faced with having to run against an entrenched incumbent quickly turned their fire on Rubio, underscoring his changing positions on seeking re-election and the fact that Trump soundly defeated Rubio in the Florida presidential primary three months ago.
“Rubio lost 66 of 67 counties in March because he abandoned the people of Florida and showed himself to be nothing but an opportunistic career politician,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant. “Today’s news only confirms that further.”
Opponents also pointed to Rubio’s dismal Senate voting record during his presidential bid and said he would likely make another White House bid in four years, before his second term was finished. In a conference call with reporters, Murphy labeled Rubio “a do-nothing senator who’s running for president in 2020.”
“Today, Marco Rubio broke his promise to Floridians,” Murphy said. “Simple question: How can Floridians trust him?”
Grayson, who is running to Murphy’s left in the Democratic primary, used the opportunity to bring up Murphy’s more-moderate stances and knock Rubio for suggesting the recent shooting massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando contributed to his decision to reconsider a run.
“While Rep. Grayson is busy passing good, progressive legislation, he welcomes the chance to beat basically two do nothing Republicans in Patrick Murphy and No Show Marco this fall,” Grayson campaign manager Mike Ceraso said. “But it’s shameful that Marco is trying to use the Orlando tragedy to further his 2020 presidential ambitions from a Senate seat that he’s barely sat in.”
–News Service of Florida and FlaglerLive