Marco the disrupter: Rubio's Senate bid would upend fellow Republicans
If Marco Rubio flip-flops on his vow to leave the Senate, he will satisfy national Republicans worried about retaining the seat.
But the move would have a cascading effect on the Republicans vying to replace him, forcing candidates who’ve spent the better part of a year campaigning all over Florida and raising money to make hard decisions about staying in the contest.
What does U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis do? Tangle with a national figure or retreat to the comfort of the House? If he chooses the latter, DeSantis will have to contend with a cast of ticked off Republicans angling for his Congressional District 6 seat.
“We're not concerned with Washington insider chatter,” said DeSantis’ campaign manager, Brad Herold. “We're focused on continuing to build the strongest campaign of any candidate in Florida.”
Take Carlos Beruff. He’s personally dumped $3 million into the race. Would Rubio’s entrance effectively flush that away?
“Nothing’s changed,” said Beruff’s spokesman, Chris Hartline.
Or Rubio’s buddy, Carlos Lopez-Cantera. Would the lieutenant governor look noble ceding to a stronger candidate? Or would he appear a push-over?
Lopez-Cantera wouldn’t comment Monday, saying he’s focused on Orlando. When we asked a couple weeks ago if he would still be in the race post June 24, the candidate’s spokeswoman avoided the question.
“Carlos Lopez-Cantera is focused on winning this Senate seat,” Courtney Alexander said in an email, “and Senator Rubio has been supportive of Lopez-Cantera's candidacy, I'll let that speak for itself.”
The only Republican eager to welcome Rubio is U.S. Rep. David Jolly, who has been talking up a Rubio run amid signs he’s exploring defending his seat against Democrat Charlie Crist.
Rubio beat Crist in 2010 partly by casting him as a politician willing to do anything to remain in the spotlight, the guy who jumped at the Senate with presidential stars in his eyes then bailed on the GOP.
By going back on his word, career politician Rubio risks criticism of hypocrisy, not to mention the delicate job of justifying a run in light of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
The other side is Rubio could help Republicans retain the Senate majority, though a general election battle is no lock. The horror in Orlando gives Rubio, 45, an opening to make the case that he should remain part of the national security debate.
"Very few people know this issue as you do, and I hope your service extends," Hugh Hewitt told Rubio on Monday.
Still, Rubio’s rivals sense he is damaged among conservative activists. That’s why Todd Wilcox issued a blistering statement a couple weeks ago when the Rubio chatter grew, hitting the incumbent for his work on comprehensive immigration reform and reaching back to Rubio’s days as a West Miami commissioner to note he supported tax increases. Wilcox today begins a three-day campaign swing focused on national security.
Rubio has to make a decision soon. Qualifying deadline: June 24.
— Jeremy Wallace contributed reporting