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Why Republicans Are Begging Rubio to Run for the Senate

The Florida senator could make the difference between Democratic and Republican control of the Senate.
Image: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Florida Senator Marco Rubio campaigns in Toa Baja
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Florida Senator Marco Rubio campaigns in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, March 5, 2016. REUTERS/Alvin BaezALVIN BAEZ / Reuters

Influential Republicans are begging defeated presidential candidate Marco Rubio to forget about his pledge not to run for reelection and instead seek a second term as Florida senator because he could make the difference between Democratic and Republican control of the Senate.

With Donald Trump down in the polls, Republicans are wary of not only losing the White House but also that the real estate mogul could hurt GOP candidates for the House and the U.S. Senate. Republicans currently have 54 seats in the Senate, but they must defend seats in six states where President Obama won in 2012 and Hillary Clinton is the favorite this fall (Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.)

There is no guarantee Rubio would win in November. But compared to the five Republicans who are currently running in a primary to replace him, Rubio has many advantages. He has high name recognition from both his 2010 Senate campaign and his presidential run, as well as an established fundraising network.

If Trump struggles in Florida, Rubio may need some voters who back Clinton to support him at the same time. And the Florida senator may be well-positioned to encourage such ticket-splitting. A Latino Republican like Rubio, who is Cuban-American, could convince Florida voters that he does not agree with Trump’s controversial views on racial issues.

For the Republican Party, Rubio is a tested candidate who has already run successfully statewide. With Rubio on the ballot, party operatives could invest more money and key staff in other races. And if some or all of the five Republicans currently in the Florida GOP Senate primary drop out if Rubio as runs, as expected, the party could consolidate around the incumbent early and focus on the general election.

Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson, two congressmen, are competing for the Democratic nomination for this Senate seat.

In Florida, a large state where it is very expensive to run a statewide campaign, a candidate with a favorable image and high name recognition, like Rubio, “is the only way to break from the top of the ticket,” said Josh Holmes, a Republican strategist and adviser to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

Holmes has been among those in the party urging Rubio to seek a second term.

“New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Nevada and Florida. And therein lies the majority,” McConnell said in a recent interview with conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt. “One of the things that I’m hoping, I and my colleagues have been trying to convince Senator Marco Rubio to run again in Florida. He had indicated he was not going to, but we’re all hoping that he’ll reconsider, because poll data indicates that he is the one who can win for us. He would not only save a terrific senator for the Senate, but help save the majority.”

The filing deadline for the race is June 24, ahead of the August 30 primary. Rubio said on Wednesday that he will spend the weekend considering if he should run.

If Rubio entered the race, it would be a huge reversal. During his presidential campaign, the Florida senator, elected in 2010, repeatedly said he would not run for reelection if he lost the presidential nomination.

But a reelection run could help Rubio reestablish his political brand. After years of hype and comparisons to Barack Obama, Rubio’s presidential campaign flopped. He struggled in some of the 2016 debates, won only three primaries (Minnesota, Puerto Rico, Washington, DC.) and was blown out by Donald Trump in the primary in Florida, ending his candidacy.

A few months ago, Rubio was being dubbed “Little Marco” by Trump, party strategists were listing all of the mistakes that he had made in his failed campaign and his political career seemed over.

But GOP leaders, particularly McConnell, then decided Rubio was the solution to the party's problems in Florida. A Mason-Dixon poll of Florida voters earlier this month found that 49 percent of them wanted Rubio to run again, compared to 39 percent who did not.

Perhaps more importantly to GOP leaders, the survey showed that the five Republicans currently running for the seat have not distinguished themselves to voters. None of the five got more than 17 percent support in the poll, with 49 percent of the state’s Republicans saying they were undecided.

“Poll data shows that @marcorubio does by far the best in holding onto his Senate seat in Florida. Important to keep the MAJORITY. Run Marco!,” Trump said in Twitter message last month, embracing his former rival.

For Rubio, the dynamic is awkward, since he has been supportive of the Senate candidacy of his longtime friend, Florida Lt. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

Lopez-Cantera is now saying he will stop his campaign if Rubio decides to run.

But there is a much bigger danger for Rubio than alienating the GOP candidates who have been running for the seat: Rubio could lose the November election. About 80% of states with Senate elections have backed the same party for the presidency and the Senate in recent elections, according to the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

So if Trump loses Florida to Clinton, particularly by a large margin, Rubio could be swept out of office.

Influential Democrats, including President Obama and Vice President Biden, have endorsed Murphy, who party leaders believe is more moderate and electable statewide than the liberal Grayson. If Murphy is the Democratic nominee, party officials are likely to aggressive campaign for this seat.

And Democrats see a huge vulnerability for Rubio: doubts about whether he truly enjoys being a senator. Rubio told the Washington Post he found the Senate "frustrating" in an interview last year, continually missed votes and hearings there as he ran for president and until recently seemed content to leave the chamber.

"It didn’t take Rubio long to develop a reputation in the Senate – a reputation for refusing to show up to his job. Rubio made no bones about the fact that he viewed representing Florida in the United States Senate as a springboard for his own political ambition and even publicly expressed his disdain for the upper chamber," said Jessica Mackler, president of the liberal group American Bridge 21st Century, in a memo to reporters.

For Rubio, a second defeat in his home state, in the same year, may truly end his career.