Florida Dominoes Fall

By Jim Ellis

June 24, 2016
— As expected, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) officially reversed course and announced that he will file for re-election. His action put in motion other political moves.

As promised, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R) announced that he is ending his Senate campaign, deferring to his long-time friend. Rep. David Jolly (R-FL-13) exited the Senate race late last week in anticipation of Rubio returning and simultaneously declared that he would attempt to seek re-election to the House.

In north-central Florida, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL-6), another Senate candidate, also stated that he, too, would leave the Senate race and now likewise retreats to seek re-election to his US House seat. Unlike Rep. Jolly, who had been laying the groundwork for a House return for a couple of weeks, Rep. DeSantis had kept his plans to himself. This led to speculation that he might not re-enter the congressional race, since six Republicans were already running, and instead sit out the 2016 election and file for the open attorney general’s position in 2018.

Upon hearing the news of DeSantis returning, three of the 6th District contenders immediately ended their congressional campaigns. State Rep. David Santiago (R) says he will file to retain his state House seat, and a pair of other potential Republican successors are also ending their short-term political plans. Navy veteran Brandon Patty (R), for whom Sen. Rubio was headlining a fundraiser, and fundraising consultant Patrick Mooney (R) are no longer candidates. State Rep. Fred Costello (R), on the other hand, made no commitment to leave so it remains an uncertainty whether he will stay to challenge DeSantis, return to his state House seat, or sit out this election cycle.

But Sen. Rubio is not going to have a clean primary, and he could suffer some political damage as a result. Both businessmen Carlos Beruff and Todd Wilcox say they will remain in the Senate race. Beruff is even going so far as pledging he will spend $20 million to remind Republican voters of Rubio’s missed votes and immigration record, while trying to pin the senator down about whether he will serve the entire six-year term, meaning not running for President in 2020.

A new Quinnipiac University poll (June 8-19; 975 registered Florida voters) gives Rubio his strongest standing in the past few weeks, however. According to these results, the senator would lead favored Democratic contender Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18), 47-40 percent, and posts a 48-40 percent margin over Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL-9), who is viewed as a much longer shot to win the Democratic nomination.

With the political dominoes settling, the big winner here is clearly the Republican Party leadership. They get back their strongest candidate to hold the critically important US Senate seat, and though Rep. Jolly is probably less than a 50/50 shot to win in the re-drawn Democratic 13th District he at least gives the party a fighting chance to save the seat instead of just handing it to ex-Gov. Charlie Crist (D). And Rep. DeSantis, whose home is not in the re-drawn and less safely Republican 6th District, still should have little trouble winning re-nomination and then holding the Flagler, Volusia, and Lake County (part) seat that he has mostly represented for the past four years.

With the Republican incumbents now settling back into place, the Florida scene may appear more stable but the individual political battles are far from over. The Sunshine State will remain the front lines in the nation’s internal political war.

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