Rubio easily won his Senate primary Tuesday evening, setting up a marquee race in a year when control of the Senate hangs in the balance.
It was just five months ago that Florida Republican voters rejected Rubio in favor of Donald Trump, ending the senator’s presidential bid. But on Tuesday, Rubio took 72 percent of the vote, earning some redemption from Sunshine State Republicans, who overwhelmingly picked him over wealthy Sarasota homebuilder Carlos Beruff.
“It’s not uncommon for people to say, ‘at this moment in our history, we want something different for president, but for Senate we like what you’ve done and want to see you continue to do it,’” Rubio says in a Tuesday phone interview, by way of explanation.
Now, Rubio heads into the general election against Democrat representative Patrick Murphy. With Rubio on the ballot, Republicans’ task is much easier than it would have been otherwise. He raised $5.4 million for his bid in just two months, a huge lift few other candidates could have pulled off. And recent polls have consistently shown Rubio leading Murphy by about 5 percent.
It is a coup for Senate leadership, who masterminded Rubio’s reentry into the race, convincing him to give up his plans for retirement after his failed presidential bid. Without Rubio on the ballot, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and other Republican groups faced the expensive prospect of boosting one of the lesser-known Republicans running for the seat, none of whom could match Rubio’s fundraising prowess. Even if those groups could free up sufficient funds to compete in a state as gigantic as Florida — a difficult lift in a year where Republicans are defending a number of competitive Senate seats — the seat looked in danger of tipping into the Democratic column. Adding to Republicans’ good fortune, Murphy has gotten a slew of bad press in recent months, as reporters have poked holes in his career history before congress, revealing a number of exaggerations about his record.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a cakewalk. Florida will be an aggressively contested state in the presidential race, where recent polls have shown Clinton leading Trump. Rubio, in an interview Tuesday, contends that Trump’s impact on the race is “I don’t think as much as people think.” But he will have to continue to outrun the top of the ticket.
If Rubio were to lose in the fall, it would mark his second high profile loss this year — a series of events that could end his political career. Asked if a loss would mark the end of his political ambitions, Rubio was noncommittal.
“I have no idea,” he says. “I’m sure that my children and my wife will still love me and that my family will still support me and there’s other things we can achieve in the private sector apart from public policy. But I just, I don’t know, I haven’t given it a thought if that were to happen, then you know, we’ll figure it out then.”