As a Florida voter, and one who voted for Marco Rubio in 2010, allow me to weigh in about which end of Pennsylvania Avenue best suits Senator Rubio, as more signs point to him making a White House run. There is no doubt that Rubio has captured the attention of many conservatives with his knowledge of foreign affairs, compelling personal story and love of country — all beautifully communicated with his impressive oratorical skills.
A display of Rubio’s talents prompted the recent Weekly Standard headline, “Rubio Shines at Koch Forum” where he was a “crowd favorite” according to Stephen Hayes. But wowing elite conservatives at a Koch Brothers gathering does not preclude Rubio’s name from appearing on every list of endangered Senators up for re-election in 2016.
There are several reasons why Rubio’s Senate re-election would be hard fought. First, any Republican senator up for his or her first re-election in a “purple” swing state that has gone “blue” in the last two presidential elections would be considered “endangered.” Florida fits that mold and explains why that Republican “power player” quoted earlier is not keen on Rubio’s presidential flirtations, telling The Washington Examiner:
Marco is in his first term and we are in the midst of a bad experience with a one-term senator as president. He has a very good chance of winning re-election as a Senator and the Republican Party needs him in the Senate.
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I caveat that “very good chance of winning” only if Rubio scales back his quest for national stature so he appears less power-hungry and spends more time in Florida fighting for his Senate seat.
There are many Republican leaders in Florida who agree with this assessment. As for the ‘Republican Party needing Rubio in the Senate” that rings true since the 2016 Senate math warns of a contentious battle if the GOP is to maintain control. With 24 Republican senators up for re-election compared to 10 for the Democrats, the stakes are high.
Second, but equally important, Senator Rubio has a 40% approval and 41 disapproval among Florida voters according to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted in November of 2014 that listed approval ratios for senators up for reelection in 2016.
Rubio’s negative approval/disapproval rating should be troubling given the unusual circumstances surrounding his 2010 Senate election. There he won “big” with 48.9% of the vote in a three-way-race against independent Charlie Crist (the former Florida Republican governor) who earned 29.7% and Kendrick Meek a former Democratic Congressman who won 20%. But the percentages won by Crist and Meek together totaled 49.7% of Florida voters, meaning a slight majority did not pull the lever for Rubio.
Further complicating matters is when Rubio won in 2010 he was a Tea Party “darling” when the Tea Party was new and at the peak of its power. The harsh reality for Senator Rubio is his 2016 re-election landscape could be a very tough slog in a presidential election year against one Democratic Party candidate in highly contested Florida.
The good news/bad news is one of the names mentioned as a potential Rubio opponent (and sure to raise Republican blood pressure) is that polarizing (but never to be underestimated) Florida Congresswoman and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz with 9%.
For now, Rubio’s Sunshine State re-election battle appears partly cloudy with a 50% chance of victory as he travels around to early primary and big money states plugging his new book, “American Dreams; Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone,” missing an important Senate vote on the Keystone XL Pipeline while testing the 2016 waters.
However, those waters feel much colder than Florida’s for when Rubio is paired in a RCP general election match-up poll against the likely Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton. She defeats him by 11.5 percentage points. Given Rubio’s low national electability coupled with his second or third tier ranking in the GOP nomination battle, doesn’t it makes more sense for the 43-year-old Rubio to showcase his considerable political talents by winning re-election in a major swing state during a presidential year? Then, if Rubio wins re-election but finds the Senate stifling, in 2018 he could run for governor of Florida in what would be an open seat since the current Republican Governor Rick Scott is term-limited.
Projecting even further, if Rubio were to be elected governor and then re-elected in 2022, all that executive experience and electoral prowess would position him well for a presidential run in 2024 when he would still only be 53-years-old!
Finally, on January 24 at a Miami fundraiser for Rubio’s Reclaim America PAC during which Rubio told his aides to “prepare for a presidential campaign,” his wife Jeanette had a minor car accident when she side-swiped a donor’s Porsche. Yes, it is such an obvious cliché using Mrs. Rubio’s accident as a sign that her husband risks crashing his promising political career by running for president instead of his first re-election, but clichés are frequency based on truth.
*UPDATE*: An hour after this piece was written a Mason-Dixon poll of Florida voters was released. The poll indicated that only 15% of Florida voters believe Senator Rubio should run for president in 2016. Whereas, 57% prefer that he run for re-election to the U.S. Senate.