A week or two ago I promised to assess Rubio’s reelection chances and I am keeping that promise. Marco Rubio’s decision to announce he was running for reelection days before the filing deadline shocked the political world. It also made Republicans breathe a huge sigh of relief. They now have a better shot at holding the seat.
But, a couple things stand in Rubio’s way. First, he has to get past a difficult primary with a Trump-esque opponent, with personal money to burn, and then square off in the general election against a likely tough challenger.
Rubio only faces one challenger in the primary, Carlos Beruff, and polls show him well ahead. But the danger for Rubio is that Beruff outflanks him on the right and pulls off what Rubio did in 2010 to then Republican Governor Charlie Crist.
Rubio is bolstered by his strong support in heavily Cuban-American South Florida. In fact, this is primarily why Republicans wanted him to run. They worried no other candidate could appeal to the community the way Rubio does. Odds are good the strategists were right.
Still, Rubio needs to run up the score there as Beruff will focus most of his attention on Northern and Central Florida (Trump country). Rubio can match Beruff on ads if need be but Rubio’s camp would probably prefer to save their money for the general which promises to be tough.
Democrats will have a Congressman face Rubio in November. The only question is which one? Liberal firebrand Alan Grayson is running as is moderate Congressman Patrick Murphy. In the Democrats case it is a case of heart vs. brains. Odds are good that Murphy wins by a healthy margin despite his emerging issues (see below).
This means Rubio will be running against his strongest opponent. With Trump at the top of the ticket this would spell disaster for any other candidate, but again, we are talking about a candidate (Rubio) with unique appeal to a critical and growing bloc of swing voters.
Depending on the particular poll you look at Rubio starts the race dead even or with no worse than a 50-50 shot of winning. If you look back at his 2010 run Rubio won a three-way contest with 49 percent of the vote. Rubio’s strongest counties were actually the moderate to liberal swing counties in Central Florida. Winning these counties will be crucial to his reelection.
He will also have to outperform his weak margins in Southern Florida. In the 3 populous South Florida counties of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach he garnered 31, 44 and 40 percent. Admittedly, he probably lost some percentages due to Crist running as an Independent so he has room to grow.
Most of the public polling of the race indicates a tight contest between Rubio and Murphy but a recent Quinnipiac survey indicates Rubio’s path to victory along racial and gender lines. The poll found Rubio ahead of Murphy by 7 percent but more importantly he led among whites by a 56-33 percent margin and he was holding 30 percent of the non-white vote. Even if turnout is less white than 2012 that indicates good news for Rubio. Romney did not carry whites by 20 plus percent in 2012 and neither did Rubio in 2010.
The quality of the opponent matters as well. On paper, Grayson is a flawed candidate and Murphy a picture perfect one. Grayson has a long history of colorful statements and extremely liberal positions while Murphy is well-spoken, a moderate and appears to be a up and coming star in the party.
One problem, even if Democrats get Murphy he is far from a strong candidate. An in-depth report by the local Miami CBS news station details just how little Murphy has accomplished in his 33 years. It details how his dad basically bought him a seat in Congress in 2012, leveraged his authority in the party through donations and let his son run shell businesses. The Murphy campaign has refuted the charges point for point but the allegations are so detailed it is hard to see Murphy not being heavily damaged from the attacks.
Indeed, this report is devastating because it undermines Murphy’s credibility not just among the party faithful but also that he is the change agent in the race. Rather, it appears Murphy is now wide open to attacks on cronyism, lacking any business experience and being far to young to handle the duties of a Senator. Say what you will about Rubio but at least he was late 30’s when elected. Murphy would be 33 if elected in November.
It also gives Grayson an opening to attack Murphy on trustworthiness. If Grayson somehow uses this to defeat Murphy in the primary it is possible Democrats do not even invest heavily in the Senate race and instead focus down-ballot on the newly redistricted Congressional map. Even if Clinton were to win the state by a healthy margin, Rubio could run so far ahead of Trump against an opponent like Grayson it might not matter.