By Jim Ellis
June 22, 2016 — It appears that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) will change course and run for re-election after repeatedly saying he would not. GOP leaders, fearing they would lose the seat without him, have apparently prevailed upon him to seek re-election after exerting intense pressure. We will know for sure very shortly, because the state’s candidate filing deadline closes Friday afternoon.
But, Rubio’s decision will not only affect the Senate race. Two House district campaigns could also drastically change if he launches a new campaign.
Already, Rep. David Jolly (R-FL-13) has left the Senate race and returns to his Pinellas County congressional district to fight an uphill battle for re-election in an unfavorable post-redistricting seat. The state Supreme Court drew a new 13th CD that greatly favors the Democrats, and party switching former Gov. Charlie Crist will be Jolly’s general election opponent.
Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R) also says he will end his Senate effort if Rubio returns. It appears party leaders will look favorably upon him running for the Chief Financial Officer position in the 2018 statewide election when incumbent CFO Jeff Atwater (R) is ineligible to seek re-election.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Ponte Vedra Beach), whose re-drawn 6th District doesn’t even include his home, has been quiet about whether or not he would stay in the Senate race. While most believe he will step aside, DeSantis has not yet made such a statement.
The northern Florida congressman’s situation is more difficult. Six Republicans are vying for his open seat, including two state Representatives. In fact, one of the candidates, Navy veteran Brandon Patty is even featuring Sen. Rubio at a fundraiser for his own campaign this very week.
Speculation around DeSantis suggests that, while he may withdraw from the Senate race, he will not return to the House. Rather, he may instead launch a 2018 campaign for Attorney General since the incumbent, Republican Pam Biondi, is term-limited and likely will become a gubernatorial candidate.
The remaining two Senate candidates, businessman Carlos Beruff, who bills himself as a “Hispanic Donald Trump”, and defense contractor Todd Wilcox both say they will continue as candidates irrespective of what Rubio does. Though Beruff had only raised a bit over $200,000 during the last financial disclosure period, he has substantial personal capital at his disposal. Wilcox had done much better, banking over $1.4 million during that same time frame and also has personal resources available for use in his campaign.
It is unlikely that either Beruff or Wilcox would give Rubio much opposition, but them staying in the race makes it that much harder for the senator and former presidential candidate to prepare for a general election battle presumably against Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18), who will be a difficult opponent.
Rubio’s road to re-election will not be an easy one. He managed only 27 percent against Trump in his own state on the March 15 primary, a result that forced him from the national race, and the attacks against him for not voting while out on the campaign trail did some damage.
The only current public primary polling data comes from St. Leo University, located about 35 miles northeast of Tampa. It’s an online poll taken between June 10-16 and finds Rubio taking 52 percent of the vote against the entire field, including Jolly, who has already dropped out. All the others score only in single digits.
The general election is a different story. Public Policy Polling just released new data (June 15-16; 508 registered Florida voters) and they find Rubio trailing Rep. Murphy 42-41 percent on the initial ballot test.
The result is actually a bit better for Rubio, because this particular PPP data slants to the Democrats. It shows the respondents voting 47-42 percent for Obama over Romney when he actually beat him by less than one point. And, the very liberal self-ID score is higher than the very conservative self-ID score, a highly unusual situation and further evidence that this poll skews left about five percentage points.
Should Rubio officially enter the race, he will be doing so at great personal political risk. If he loses — and he may since the general election will be difficult and close — it may end any realistic chance that he has of launching a credible for president in the future.