By Jim Ellis
June 20, 2016 — The Florida Senate race could soon be changing in a major way. With the June 24 filing deadline closing in on all Florida politicos, Sen. Marco Rubio (R) is running out of time to decide whether he will reverse his previously stated position and seek re-election.
The stage is set for his return, but is re-entering the Senate race the right move for him? Certainly Republican leaders think Rubio running again would be best for the party. The Florida campaign is going to be one of the most important and talked about during the general election cycle and Senate Republican leaders such as Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John Cornyn (R-TX) have made no secret of their position that Rubio should run.
Now we see at least two active Senate participants saying they would end their campaigns if the senator were to declare. Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R), who Rubio has repeatedly praised as being a worthy successor, made the public statement earlier this week that should the incumbent and former presidential candidate want back in, he will exit, stage right.
The same is true for Rep. David Jolly (R-FL-13), who announced last Friday that he was dropping out of the Senate race. This action signifies that he either believes Rubio will file this week or that he has a better chance of winning in his court-drawn Pinellas County congressional district even though it is now configured to elect a Democrat — or perhaps both.
The fact that his congressional opponent will be party-switching former Gov. Charlie Crist, who is still decidedly unpopular, portends that Jolly might prevail even in what is now an unfavorable seat for him. In fact, a St. Pete Polls automated survey taken from a sample of 746 Pinellas County voters on June 9 finds Jolly and Crist tied at 44 percent apiece, even with Hillary Clinton topping Donald Trump by nine points.
A third major candidate, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL-6), has yet to say what he would do should Rubio return. Speculation, however, overwhelmingly points to him also leaving the Senate race and filing to remain in the House. This would then displace the six Republicans running to succeed the Daytona area congressman in the Atlantic coastal 6th District.
Businessmen Carlos Beruff and Todd Wilcox both say they will stay in the Senate race regardless of whether Rubio returns.
After saying for months he would not run, Rubio is perceptively beginning to change his tune. Now, he indicates he wants to confer with his family over the weekend in order to make a final decision instead of repeating his declaration of retirement statements.
But winning re-election would be no sure thing even if he does run. Donald Trump crushed the home state senator, 46-27 percent, during the GOP presidential primary, an embarrassing result that forced him from the race. The fact that he has missed many votes while campaigning for president will prompt many questions about whether he really wants the job, and if he will serve the full six-year term. Clearly, he has much fence mending to do within the state should he decide to seek re-election.
Additionally, if Rubio jumps back in the Senate race, it means putting his entire career on the line. Many Democrats have publicly said that he would lose all credibility for future national campaigns if he was to lose this re-election battle, and they are right.
Should Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18) win the Democratic senatorial primary, the race between he and Rubio would be hard fought, expensive, and difficult. Murphy has proven himself a strong candidate, and would be well positioned to exploit the senator’s clear vulnerabilities.
Once again, the coming week will be yet another interesting one in the always volatile Sunshine State political world.