Sen. Marco Rubio will announce Wednesday he will seek re-election to the Senate, reversing a pledge he made a year ago to either assume the presidency or return to private life in Florida, instantly transforming an already competitive race and improving the chances that Republicans can maintain the Senate majority.
Rubio is set to announce the decision sometime Wednesday, according to three people familiar with the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it before a formal announcement. One person said Rubio has started privately informing key Republicans he will run.
His entry into the race comes shortly before a Friday deadline for candidate filings and after weeks of pressure from national GOP figures who urged Rubio to reconsider his frequently repeated intention to either become president or a “private citizen” come 2017.
Those entreaties were rooted in blunt political reality: Rubio, with his near-universal name recognition and proven fundraising capacity, would give Republicans their best chance of winning the swing-state seat and, perhaps, the Senate majority.
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who played a leading role in convincing Rubio to run, smiled Wednesday morning when he was asked about reports that Rubio would run: “If that were to happen, that would be a great outcome.” He said Rubio’s entry into the race would move the seat from a likely loss for Republicans into “likely retention.”
The decision to continue his career in elective politics comes barely three months after Rubio, 45, ended his presidential campaign after an embarrassing loss in his home-state primary, where he finished nearly 20 points behind Donald Trump and won only one county outright — his home base of Miami-Dade. But the handful of candidates seeking to succeed him in the Senate each struggled to break out as Rubio sent a series of signals that he might be willing to seek re-election.
Trump was among those encouraging Rubio to run, tweeting, “Important to keep the MAJORITY. Run Marco!”
Rubio, who is expected to mount another presidential campaign as soon as 2020, first publicly acknowledged he was rethinking his decision last Wednesday, when he told reporters as he entered a Capitol Hill briefing on the Orlando terror attack, “I take very seriously everything that’s going on — not just Orlando, but in our country.”
“I’ll go home later this week, and I’ll have some time with my family, and then if there’s been a change in our status I’ll be sure to let everyone know,” he said.
That same day, a close friend who had been running to succeed him, Florida Lieutenant Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, told supporters in an email that “if Marco decides to enter this race, I will not be filing the paperwork to run for the U.S. Senate.”
Another Republican who ran to succeed Rubio, Rep. David Jolly, announced Friday he would withdraw from the Senate race and instead seek re-election to the House in his St. Petersburg-area district.
It is unclear what now happens to the remainder of the Republican field. A poll released Friday by Saint Leo University showed Rubio easily outpolling any of the already-declared GOP candidates, winning the support of roughly half of likely primary voters.
Candidate Rep. Ron DeSantis, who has seen some success in tapping a national network of Republican donors, suggested in a radio interview last week that he would consider withdrawing if Rubio ran. “If he makes a decision to run, that changes a lot about how I look at the race,” DeSantis, who represents a Jacksonville-area district, told host Hugh Hewitt.
But two wealthy businessmen who have launched runs — home builder Carlos Beruff and defense contractor Todd Wilcox — both said this week through campaign aides that they would remain in the race if Rubio chose to run.
Democrats have a bruising primary of their own, pitting Rep. Patrick Murphy against Rep. Alan Grayson. Murphy enjoys the support of the national party apparatus and has raised more than $7 million for his campaign — much more than any of the current Republican candidates. But he may have to spend a considerable chunk of it to beat Grayson, a liberal firebrand with a dedicated following among progressive activists, in the Aug. 30 primary.
In any case, Rubio’s entry instantly makes Florida into one of the country’s most competitive and closely watched Senate races. Democrats are confident that they will be able to use Rubio’s absenteeism during his presidential run, his series of dismissive remarks about the Senate, and his conservative voting record against him. A Democratic Super PAC, American Bridge, on Friday released a two-and-a-half minute video chronicling the many times Rubio either complained about or vowed to leave the Senate.
In a hint of the hard-fought campaign to come, Murphy issued a statement Wednesday morning accusing Rubio of being “only out for himself” and slamming him for missing scores of Senate votes, voting in favor sweeping restrictions on abortion and opposing Democratic amendments this week that would tighten gun laws in the aftermath of the Orlando attack.
“Marco Rubio abandoned his constituents, and now he’s treating them like a consolation prize,” Murphy said. “Unlike Marco Rubio, I love working hard every single day for the people of Florida.”
There is also the Trump factor: The presumptive GOP nominee is expected to be a drag on downballot Republicans in a state where nearly 20 percent of the voting-age population is Hispanic.
Donors on both sides are likely to be highly motivated — Democrats by the prospect of delivering a knockout blow to Rubio’s political career, Republicans by the necessity of keeping the Senate majority and supporting a breakout star of the party. Rubio and his team called some of his top donors on Wednesday morning, asking them to help raise funds quickly for what could easily be the most expensive Senate race of the year.
Upon launching his presidential campaign, Rubio said he would not leave the door open for a return to the Senate, explaining that he did not want to treat the job as a fallback. On the campaign trail, he frequently described his frustration with Capitol Hill. Only after leaving the trail did he modify that assessment, blaming Democratic leaders for his poor attitude toward the Senate.
For months after the campaign ended, those closest to Rubio insisted he was determined to return to Miami, explore lucrative private-sector opportunities, raise his young family and regroup for another presidential run. But GOP leaders deployed a variety of arguments to lure him back into the race, from the need to keep the Senate majority to the national security threats facing the nation to the a coming exodus of lawmakers from the Florida congressional delegation.
“It’s a very dangerous world out there, and Florida is losing a lot of key people,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a Rubio ally. “I really think the country and the state needs him. … This is not something he was looking at doing, but a lot of folks are asking him to do it.”
Jolly, however, suggested Rubio’s reversal was not quite as spontaneous as it appeared. “It’s textbook,” he said, noting the slow crescendo that started with an uptick in Rubio’s legislative presence, followed by a open draft movement led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), culminating in a dramatic exchange where Lopez-Cantera privately urged Rubio to run after the two visited the scene of the Orlando attack — a conversation that was detailed in a Politico story Wednesday, released hours before Rubio publicly acknowledged he was rethinking his future.
The draft-Rubio campaign, Jolly said, killed any chance any other Republican had to win Rubio’s seat: “Generously I would say it froze the field, but also I could make the argument that it eviscerated it. … There were other ways to handle it.”