Marco Rubio Decides He’s Running For Re-Election After All

Marco Rubio changes his mind, and drops the first hint that he's already thinking about the Presidential race in 2020 or 2024.

Marco Rubo Senate Seal

Confirming rumors that began circulating last week, Florida Senator Marco Rubio announced today that, notwithstanding the decision he made more than a year a go to eschew running for reelection to the Senate in favor of running for President, Florida Senator Marco Rubio announced today that he would run for relection after all:

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said Wednesday that he has decided to seek re-election to the Senate after months of insisting he would not run again, a reversal that will reshape one of the most competitive races in the country.

Mr. Rubio, 45, who is said to be reluctant to give up the high profile that a Senate seat offers, will enter the race with the formidable advantages of incumbency, national name recognition and strong ties to the Republican Party’s donor base.

But he also faces numerous hurdles. He is coming off a bruising race for president that ended with an embarrassing loss to Donald J. Trump in his home state on March 15 — one that focused in no small part on his frequent absence from the Senate and from his duties in Florida as he campaigned.

He also made no secret of his distaste for Washington and the often glacial pace of business on Capitol Hill, words he is certain to see turned against him in attack ads from Democrats who had been optimistic about their chances at taking back Mr. Rubio’s seat before he entered the race.

In an interview with Fox News on Wednesday, Mr. Rubio acknowledged his about-face and tried to explain himself in part by saying, “I changed my mind.”

“I think it’s clearly outlined that I’m frustrated by what’s happening here in the Senate — most Americans are,” he added.

Then, in a dig at the presumptive nominees of both political parties, Mr. Rubio said he ultimately believed that no matter who is elected president, the Senate has the vital role “of being able to act as a check and balance on bad ideas from the president.”

The senator has told colleagues and advisers that he would like to run for president again, either in 2020 or 2024. But he increasingly came to think that doing so from the private sector would be difficult.

His decision is not without considerable risk to his political future, despite his status as a nationally known incumbent who will have the full backing of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

According to people who have spoken with Mr. Rubio in recent days, the senator is especially concerned about the effect that Mr. Trump’s candidacy could have on his chances of winning. A poor performance in the November general election by Mr. Trump against Hillary Clinton in Florida, with its large Hispanic population, could hurt Mr. Rubio.

In the wake of Rubio’s announcement last year that he was not running for re-election, there was something of a scramble on both sides of the aisle among candidates eager to grab a chance at a rarely open Senate seat. The Democratic side has generally narrowed down to a race between Congressman Patrick Murphy and Congressman Alan Grayson and, by all accounts, it appears that Murphy will easily defeat the firebrand Grayson in the primary at the end of August. On the Republican side, the three strongest candidates — Congressman David Jolly, Congressman Ron DeSantis, and  Carlos López-Cantera, a close Rubio associate and protege who currently serves as Lieutenant Governor of Florida — have all dropped out of the race in the past week in favor of Rubio so he should have relatively smooth sailing in the primary. Rubio will still have to compete against a handful of little known candidates to get the nomination, but considering the fact that he managed to garner 27% of the vote in his second place finish behind Donald Trump in the March Presidential Primary, it seems unlikely that any of those also-rans will be able compete effectively against him, especially since the donor network that was behind his Presidential race and his 2010 run for the Senate will no doubt be behind him again in this bid to stay in the Senate. Looking ahead to the General Election, recent polling has shown Rubio leading both Murphy and Grayson in head-to-head matchups but November will no doubt be a challenge for Rubio given the fact that his Democratic opponent will have the benefit of Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket, and current polling shows Clinton leading in Florida, although that lead does shrink when you include Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein. In any case, before today it was looking increasingly doubtful that the GOP would be able to hold on to Rubio’s seat in the fall. Now, they’ve at least got a fighting chance in the Sunshine State and that may be the difference between maintaining a narrow hold on the Senate and losing control to the Democrats when January rolls around.

Chris Cillizza argues that, regardless of whatever arguments he makes for changing his mind, the real reason for Rubio’s change of heart here is quite simple:

In my mind, to truly understand Rubio’s decision you have to look beyond the Senate and beyond 2016. You have to look at 2020.

Now more than ever in politics (and life) people have short memories and even shorter attention spans. Being out of the national spotlight is the equivalent of political death. And for Rubio, who quite clearly wants to run for president again, he was facing four years (at least) of standing on the sidelines if he didn’t run for a second term this November.

The state’s governorship is up in 2018 — Rick Scott is term-limited out of the job — but state Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam (R) has been setting up a run for that office for much of the last decade. Sen. Bill Nelson (D) is up for reelection in 2018 as well, but that’s no easy win against an entrenched incumbent.

So, Rubio was staring down four years of, well, not much. Meanwhile, two other top-tier 2020 GOP candidates — House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — would remain in office, serving as either a high-profile check on President Hillary Clinton or an alternate voice to the unorthodox conservatism of President Donald Trump. That was a losing proposition for Rubio — and he knew it.


The calculation Rubio made is that the gamble in re(running) in 2016 was a better one than sitting out two years and running against Nelson or Putnam or waiting four years (or even eight years) to run for president again.

I think he’s right. The 2016 Senate race is not an easy one — not even for Rubio, a known commodity in Florida and a gifted natural candidate. When you factor in the negatives Rubio took on in the 2016 presidential race — he got demolished in the state by Trump in the March presidential primary — and the various dismissive things he has said about the Senate, you have an even more complicated race. Add on the fact that Trump is, at a minimum, unpredictable as a top of the ticket nominee, and you see that this race is probably a 50-50 proposition for Rubio.

If he loses, it’s likely the end of the line for Rubio. Running for president in 2020 or 2024 as an unsuccessful presidential candidate and Senate candidate in 2016 is not exactly a strong foundation on which to build. But, if Rubio passes on this race, it’s uniquely possible that by 2020 the Republican Party has already passed him by.

Cillizza is largely correct here. If Trump loses the General Election and we once again have a crowded Republican field competing for the chance to take on President Hillary Clinton, four years in the political wilderness would not bode well for Rubio at all. If nothing else, many of the people who supported him this time around would likely move on to another candidate and, of course, we don’t know at this point what impact a Trump candidacy is going to have on a Republican Party that is already showing signs of an internal party war. If Rubio stays in the Senate, he’ll be able to stake out his own position in that battle and, assuming he learns the right lessons from his failed 2016 bid, he may actually emerge as a top contender with the ability to take on candidates like Cruz. If he loses, he’ll be in no worse a position than if he had not run for reelection at all, and probably worse off for the reasons Cillizza notes. At the very least, his entry into the race will make the down ballot races even more crucial for the GOP going forward, especially since he could stand to gain a lot of credit if it turns out that his seat is the one that makes the difference between Republican and Democratic control of the Senate. In any case, once again the nation’s eyes will be on Florida on Election Night for more than one reason.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Mu says:

    I can see the add now. Rubio “I will be a private person in 2017” Opponent “Let’s make it happen, help him reach his goal”

  2. James Pearce says:

    And for Rubio, who quite clearly wants to run for president again, he was facing four years (at least) of standing on the sidelines if he didn’t run for a second term this November.

    Dear Florida,

    You only have 2 Senators. Don’t waste a spot on a guy who wants to go to Washington, but doesn’t really want to serve in the Senate.

    The World

  3. grumpy realist says:

    OK, we have four years to figure out how to get off this planet….

    If Florida is dumb enough to elect Mr. “oops, I’m not going to do my job because it’s too boring” as Senator again, they deserve whatever happens to them.

  4. Joe says:

    Rubio said today,

    It is no secret that I have significant disagreements with Donald Trump. His positions on many key issues are still unknown,” Rubio said. “And some of his statements, especially about women and minorities, I find not just offensive but unacceptable.

    I am curious about the dynamic of two high-profile Republicans running for separate offices but somehow against each other. Things just get inerestinger and interestinger.

  5. Gustopher says:

    @Joe: One nice thing about Rubio, he is flexible enough to accept things that he says are unacceptable.

    He hates being in the Senate, but he is willing to concede that it is better than not being in the Senate, and follow through with his actions.

    He finds some of the Republican nominee’s statements offensive, and others unacceptable, but he can do the moral limbo to find just the statements unacceptable, but the candidate acceptable.

  6. Joe says:

    @Gustopher: That’s why he’s in the party of Paul Ryan. Kindred spirits, kick ass yoga skills.

  7. An Interested Party says:

    As split-ticket voting isn’t all that common anymore, wouldn’t it be just tragic if Rubio losses this race because Trump losses Florida in a spectacular fashion in November…the irony…

  8. Paul Hooson says:

    Only marginally effective as a legislator, but at least a more mainstream type of conservative. Probably being a congressman is more within his skills range than senator.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    And here I thought the shame of his groveling to Trump would eat at him and cause him to contemplate suicide. Nope. Evidently this invertebrate, this slug, this unmanned man still thinks he should be in politics. Notions of manhood have changed.

  10. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    His problem wouldn’t be running from the private sector, it’s that he’s so light weight that he can tap dance across a swimming pool full of whipped cream without getting any on his cute Cubano boots.

  11. rachel says:

    Rubio’s Plan A (Use the Senate as a springboard to the White House just like the Obama did) failed. His Plan B looks like Plan A + 4 years.

  12. Pete S says:

    @Mu: Hopefully they also add a line about it being another fine example of a Rubio promise.

  13. stonetools says:

    Floridans who re-elect Rubio would have to be dumber than dirt. Unfortunately, they most likely are.
    It doesn’t help that the Dems are divided too-between Murphy and Grayson, both of whom are flawed candidates.

  14. JohnMcC says:

    Florida Democrat here. As bad as Sen Rubio seems as a candidate the Dem’s here can’t find anyone worth the powder it would take to blow him away. Grayson is a leftwing Trump. Murphy is a CPA and Republican-curious. We are after all the state party that nominated Ms Alex Sink to run against our reptilian Gov Scott.

    As stated above, split ticket voting is out of style (since it requires actual thought about who to vote for) and a large delta between R-turnout and D-turnout would probably send one or the other of the hapless Democrats to DC but I doubt the nation would find anything in them to thank us for.

    Two thoughts: Florida Repubs have a three way split between the Crackers (who are for Trump), the Bushies and the self-proclaimed Young Guns of the Rubio/L-Cantero faction. If Sen Rubio can re-unite the JEB! and Youngsters’ factions he could have a future in Florida politics.

    And let’s not assign anyone to the outer reaches of the universe after one ignominious defeat. Does anyone remember that ‘we won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore’? Some of the b@st@rds need a stake throught their hearts.

  15. dmhlt says:

    Note to Marco “Thirsty” Rubio:
    For a guy so enamored of wanting to shrink government down to a size you can drown it in a bathtub, you should realize that …
    You Can’t Kill the Beast While Sucking at Its Teat

  16. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @dmhlt: He doesn’t want to shrink government to the size that it can be drowned in a bathtub, he only needs the voters who believe that THEY want that to think that he agrees with them.

  17. Bill says:

    @James Pearce:

    Dear Florida,

    You only have 2 Senators. Don’t waste a spot on a guy who wants to go to Washington, but doesn’t really want to serve in the Senate.

    This two-time OTB contributor and registered democrat will most likely vote for Murphy if they are the nominee even though I voted for Rubio in 2010.

    Honestly I thought Rubio might run for Governor in 2018. Scott can’t run for a third term. Thank goodness.