Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who pledged for months not to seek reelection to the Senate as he waged an ill-fated campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, said Wednesday that he is rethinking that decision and could enter the race as soon as next week.
Rubio said his decision followed a Sunday conversation with his friend, Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R), who is running to succeed him in the Senate, on the sidelines of the scene of the terrorist attack in Orlando.
“Obviously, I take very seriously everything that’s going on — not just Orlando, but in our country,” Rubio said. “I enjoy my service here a lot. So 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.”
In that conversation in Orlando, according to a Politico interview with Lopez-Cantera, the lieutenant governor urged Rubio to reconsider his decision not to run and pledged to exit the race if he decided to do so. The primary election is Aug. 30.
“I have asked Sen. Marco Rubio to reconsider his decision and enter the senate race,” Lopez-Cantera wrote to supporters in an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post. “The decision is his and his alone to make. … I am still in this race and nothing has changed. However, if Marco decides to enter this race, I will not be filing the paperwork to run for the U.S. Senate.”
National Republicans are eager to retain the Florida Senate seat as they fight to retain the Senate majority in a year when they worry their presidential nominee, Donald Trump, may endanger it. They believe that Rubio offers the best chance to keep the seat in their column instead of enduring a costly, five-way primary in August before fending off Democrats in the general election.
Before Wednesday, Rubio had not previously acknowledged in explicit terms that he was revisiting his decision not to seek reelection. As recently as mid-May, he was outspoken in his determination to leave the Senate: “I have only said like 10000 times I will be a private citizen in January,” he tweeted.
But since then, there has been a slow crescendo of speculation that Rubio might reconsider — one that appeared to some observers as a spontaneous draft movement and to others as a meticulously orchestrated marketing campaign. On Monday, Rubio told radio host Hugh Hewitt that he was “deeply impacted” by the Orlando attack and that “it really gives you pause to think a little bit about your service to your country and where you can be most useful to your country.”
Rubio told reporters he was rethinking his stance Wednesday as he entered a closed-door briefing on the Orlando attack with law enforcement and homeland security officials. He did not respond to questions after he made his brief statement.
Rubio faces a June 24 deadline for declaring his candidacy. That night, he is scheduled to headline a fundraiser for Lopez-Cantera in a Coral Gables hotel.
Besides Lopez-Cantera, four Republicans have mounted credible campaigns to succeed Rubio. One of them, Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.), has openly said he will bow out of the race should Rubio decide to seek reelection and has scheduled a Friday news conference to announce whether he will remain in the Senate race, run for reelection to the House, or bow out of politics altogether.
At the Capitol on Wednesday, Jolly sounded unlikely to continue his Senate run. “I think [Rubio] decides to get back in,” he said. “But it’s just a supposition; it’s not based on any conversation, any knowledge.”
Another Republican, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), has not addressed the Rubio scenario, and a spokesman did not return an email seeking comment Wednesday. Two wealthy political outsiders seeking the office, businessmen Carlos Beruff and Todd Wilcox, told The Washington Post earlier this month they would not clear the field for Rubio if he ran.
Wilcox formally filed to enter the race Wednesday, and spokeswoman Erin Isaac said he had no intention to reconsider should Rubio run. Beruff spokesman Chris Hartline said Florida voters “value real world experience more than political experience” and confirmed Beruff plans to continue his campaign regardless.
“They’re sick of career politicians and power-brokers in Washington who care about one thing: holding on to power,” Hartline said. “They don’t get to pick our candidates.”
Two congressmen — Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy — are battling for the Democratic nomination. Murphy has the support of the national party campaign operation and has already raised more than $7.7 million for his campaign — more than any of the Republican candidates.
Public polling has shown uncertain prospects for any of the current Republican candidates.
An early-May Quinnipiac University poll showed each of the five Republicans statistically tied with or losing to Murphy, and none could open a statistically significant lead against Grayson. A Public Policy Polling survey done early this month found Beruff and Jolly running well behind Murphy in head-to-head matchups, while Rubio and Murphy were statistically tied in that hypothetical race.
But Rubio’s reelection is by no means guaranteed: The PPP poll found that Rubio’s approval rating is badly underwater after his presidential run, with only 32 percent of voters endorsing his job performance.
The calls for Rubio to reconsider have vexed the other candidates in the race, who have seen their campaigns enter suspended animation as donors and supporters wait until Rubio makes a final decision.
One Rubio supporter, who’s keeping tabs on the deliberations and asked to remain anonymous in order to speak frankly about them, said the senator hasn’t yet reactivated his fundraising network or asked top bundlers to begin reaching out for fresh financial support.
“We expect that’ll come quickly once he’s made a decision to run,” the supporter said.
Jolly faulted national Republican leaders and campaign officials for poisoning the GOP field and accused them of having “done nothing to lift a finger in the past 10 months.”
“If they are unsuccessful in getting Marco in the race, boy, they have done a lot of damage to the Republican field and, in many ways, have made an in-kind contribution to the Senate campaign of Patrick Murphy,” he said.
Ed O’Keefe and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.