Florida Republican Marco Rubio is now running for the Senate seat he was prepared to give up — until his presidential aspirations were derailed by New York billionaire Donald Trump.
While announcing his bid for a second term on Wednesday, Rubio acknowledged his frustration with the Senate and the gridlock he’s found there. But he said he also sees the chamber as an important check against abuses by the executive branch. "No matter who wins the White House, we need a strong group of principled, persuasive leaders in Congress who will not only advance limited government, free enterprise and a strong national defense, but also explain to Americans how it makes life better for them and their families," Rubio said in a statement. "I ultimately changed my mind about this race because on that front, and in that fight, I believe I have something to offer."
Rubio took swipes at both presumptive presidential nominees, saying Democrat Hillary Clinton would lead to economic stagnation and failed foreign policy.
"The prospect of a Trump presidency is also worrisome to me," Rubio added. "It is no secret that I have significant disagreements with Donald Trump. His positions on many key issues are still unknown. And some of his statements, especially about women and minorities, I find not just offensive but unacceptable."
A poll released Wednesday suggested he would beat either of his leading Democratic rivals if he made the last-minute decision to run again. In Florida, Rubio leads Rep. Patrick Murphy 47 - 40 percent and tops Rep. Alan Grayson 48 - 40 percent, according to the Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll. The poll also found that none of the relatively unknown Republican candidates already in the Florida race has a lead over either Democrat.
"With Republican national leaders worried about keeping control of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Marco Rubio might ride to their rescue if he decides to reverse field and seek re-election," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll.
One of Rubio's would-be opponents, Rep. David Jolly, pre-emptively left the Senate race Friday, opting instead to run for re-election in the House. Another, Rep. Ron DeSantis, said Wednesday he would do the same. Carlos Beruff made clear that he will continue seeking the GOP nomination.
In their attempts to recruit Rubio, Republican operatives complained openly that the five candidates who had been seeking the GOP nomination lacked the ability to raise enough money to win the battleground seat.
Rubio's entrance into the campaign brings with it a national fundraising network and near-universal name recognition to an expensive state the size of a small country.
"He's still a bright shooting star, one of a my best friends in the Senate," said Tim Scott, R-S.C. "And a guy that has lots of integrity and lots of charisma. So I'm excited that he's running and will do everything I can to make sure that he's successful."
But Rubio will also face problems in the state with Trump atop the ticket, potentially alienating Latino voters, and the lingering damage from Rubio's failed presidential campaign. Rubio lost in the state's GOP presidential primary.
"I think his biggest problem is Hillary is going to absolutely swamp the top of the ticket and that's going to have a down-ballot effect," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
The open seat was rated a Tossup by The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call before Rubio's decision and that wouldn't change immediately after his announcement.
As for Rubio, he told Roll Call on Wednesday morning that returning to the campaign trail will require changing his routine again.
"I'll be home every weekend, the way I am now. I'll just be campaigning instead of, you know, pressure-cleaning my driveway," Rubio said. "We're going to be up here through the 15th, and then we'll have plenty of time over the summer and fall to campaign."