Florida Senate Chain Reaction

April 15, 2015 — Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), as expected, officially announced his presidential campaign, which also put into motion the political war for what will be an open Florida Senate seat.

We already know that Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18) is in the race, but with Rubio now out of the coming Senate contest the Republicans can start to make moves of their own.

Staying with the Democrats, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL-9) continues to confirm interest in the race, and drops big hints that he will enter. He has said repeatedly that an early start does not equate to winning an election, so it is highly possible that he will begin his own campaign later in the year. Because he has the ability to self-fund, immediately constructing an external fundraising operation is not as important in this instance as for someone without such ability. Grayson appeals to the hard left, which is of significance in a Democratic primary battle.

In reviewing where the Florida Republicans stand, several decisions already have been made. As we reported yesterday, state CFO Jeff Atwater, after appearing to take every necessary step to prepare for a Senate race, abruptly announced that he would not run. Since he appeared to be performing best in preliminary polling, his absence now creates a wide-open political playing field.

Just as quickly as Atwater stepped away, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL-6) appears headed toward launching a statewide bid. The congressman is expected to formally announce his Senate campaign before the week is out.

Another congressman who could be moving toward running, though he has been relatively quiet about a Senate race, is Sarasota Rep. Vern Buchanan (R). Western Florida state and local officials are beginning to make moves to enter what they believe will be an open 16th District race should Buchanan follow suit and decide to join the Senate campaign. Pinellas County Rep. David Jolly (R-FL-13), serving his first full term in the House, won’t rule out a Senate bid but he seems to be a long shot candidate at this stage of his political career.

Two other House members around whom Senate talk is swirling are representatives Dennis Ross (R-FL-15) and Tom Rooney (R-FL-17). Ross is in the pure speculation phase, but Rooney has definite ideas about running statewide yet is circumspect about when. Earlier, he declared that he is organizing a Senate campaign, but in 2018 when Sen. Bill Nelson (D) comes up for re-election. Now, however, he is openly considering what will be an open 2016 race. Ross is unlikely to run, but Rooney is a distinct possibility to become a Senate candidate.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R) still confirms he may run, but hasn’t been particularly vocal about joining the race since it became obvious that Rubio would not seek re-election. Therefore, a Lopez-Cantera campaign is an iffy proposition at this point.

There are also individuals who have taken themselves out of the 2016 Senate race. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL-23) was publicly looking at the contest early in the year, but a series of gaffes and bad publicity helped her quickly decide to seek re-election and nothing more.

Former Representative and MSNBC television host Joe Scarborough (R) was also flirting with the idea of returning to Florida to run, but he, too, quickly reversed course.

Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL-10) has taken himself out of consideration. House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL-1) and freshman Rep. Curt Clawson (R-FL-19) had made statements suggesting that they were considering running for he Senate, but neither had said anything lately. This likely means neither will enter the statewide campaign.

The open Florida race promises to be one of the premier Senate campaigns in the nation and may well decide which party ultimately controls the body in the next Congress.

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