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An exhausted Marco Rubio returns to Senate, vows not to accept VP or run for governor

Sen. Marco Rubio speaks Tuesday night at Florida International University in Miami. (Paul Sancya/AP)

Returning to the Senate for the first time in a month, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he expects to return to life as a private citizen in January with no political goals on the horizon.

“I’m not going to be anybody’s vice president. I’m just not gonna — I’m not interested in being vice president. I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way. I’m not going to be vice president. I’m not running for governor of Florida,” Rubio said, dismissing speculation about his future.

It wasn’t quite Richard Nixon’s declaration — “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, gentlemen, because this is my last press conference,” he declared after his 1962 loss in the California governor’s race — but Rubio wanted to dismiss every possible chance of running for another office for at least some time into the future.

Clearly exhausted from a yearlong bid for the presidency, Rubio, 44, sighed and took several deep breaths throughout the seven-minute press briefing outside the meeting room of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“I’m going to finish out my term in the Senate over the next 10 months. We’re going to work really hard here, and we have some things we want to achieve,” the one-term senator said. “And then I’ll be a private citizen in January.”

[Rubio was lifted by 2010 wave. But he was swamped by the ‘tsunami’ of 2016]

That means that Republican leaders should not bother trying to get him to reverse course and run for reelection to his seat in November. Instead, Rubio gave an all-but-formal endorsement of his friend, Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who is among the crowded field of contenders for the Republican nomination to succeed Rubio.

“The lieutenant governor is a good friend of mine,” Rubio said regarding his support in the Senate race.

Some viewed the race to succeed his state’s term-limited governor, Republican Rick Scott, as a natural spot for Rubio in 2018. His distant second place finish to Donald Trump in the Florida presidential primary Tuesday, however, leaves some doubt about how strong his standing is in his home state.

As his campaign staff members tweeted pictures of cleaning out their offices, Rubio said he had no thoughts about how to organize his 169 delegates gained in the early primaries and whether he would try to back one of the remaining candidates to put Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) or Ohio Gov. John Kasich over the top to knock off Trump at the Republican convention in Cleveland in July.

“My campaign barely ended 48 hours ago. So I haven’t thought through that. It’s certainly not anything we’re planning on,” he said.

In a call with his supporters in Minnesota — the lone state to give him a victory on the crucial March 1 Super Tuesday collection of primaries and caucuses — Rubio said Cruz was the “only conservative” left in the race.

On Thursday, he said that was merely his own opinion of the three candidates left and that he had no endorsement yet to make.

“I don’t have anything to announce today,” he said, explaining that Cruz is the most conservative candidate left in the race. “I like Governor Kasich. I just – that was my opinion.”

Rubio remains bewildered by the buzz saw that Trump was in the campaign — his “little Marco”dismissal of Rubio still burns — and is still grappling with what happened.

“It’s a very unusual year,” he said. “People are going to write books about this year. There’s going to be a lot of political scholarship on what exactly is happening.”

[Inside Rubio’s collapse: A fateful decision that helped unravel his campaign]

He said that his support of the Senate’s 2013 comprehensive overhaul of immigration and border laws was clearly unpopular with some voters but was not decisive in knocking him from the field, given that a dozen other candidates with more conservative positions on the issue dropped out before him.

“It was a factor, but at the end of the day, if you look at how we performed in some of the many places, I don’t think it was the reason why I’m not still in the race,” he said.

In a nod to the authors of the “Game Change” book about the 2008 campaign, Rubio even joked that maybe he would make a good bit of money writing his own tell-all account of this year’s race.

“It might be a good idea, though, you never know, all these guys are making movies out of their books,” he said.