Politics

How Rubio's Decision Scrambles Florida House Races

DeSantis is running for re-election in the 6th District

Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis is running for re-election now that Marco Rubio has entered the Senate race. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Marco Rubio’s decision to run for the Senate complicates the political lives of a number of other Florida Republicans.

First among them is 6th District Rep. Ron DeSantis, who announced Wednesday that he is dropping out of the Senate race to run for re-election

As the incumbent, with a $3.2 million war chest, he’s expected to win easily. The Club for Growth PAC, the anti-tax group that had endorsed DeSantis for Senate, quickly endorsed his re-election bid Wednesday and threw its support behind Rubio for Senate. 

But it signaled that DeSantis might have another shot. 

"We believe Rep. DeSantis clearly has great potential for a run at the Senate in 2018," Club President David McIntosh said in a statement.

FreedomWorks PAC also endorsed both Rubio and DeSantis for their respective re-elections. 

GOP Rep. David Jolly, who had also been running for Senate, dropped out and decided to run for re-election to his 13th District seat last week. 

DeSantis' decision is already having a ripple effect, pushing out other candidates running for the GOP nomination in the 6th District. 

At least five Republicans had been running for DeSantis’ seat, and as of Wednesday night, three of them had ended their bids for the GOP nomination. 

[ Why Rubio's Return Is Good, Not Great News for the GOP ]

Rubio's Will-He Won't-He Saga

One of them, Navy veteran Brandon Patty, was supposed to be getting an assist from Rubio on Wednesday at a Washington, D.C., fundraiser. 

But Patty, a former aide to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who raised $108,000 in the first quarter of the year, told the National Review Wednesday that he is ending his campaign and endorsing DeSantis. 

State Sen. David Santiago, who ended the first quarter of the year with $108,000 in the bank, is also ending his campaign.

State Sen. Fred Costello had not yet made an announcement. A dentist, Costello lost to DeSantis in the 2012 6th District primary by 16 points and ended the first quarter of the year with just $86,000 after lending his campaign $100,000.  

One of the most formidable candidates in the race, excluding DeSantis, had been Republican consultant Patrick Mooney, but he too dropped his bid Wednesday. 

Mooney is the brother of West Virginia Republican Rep. Alex Mooney and had ended the quarter with the most money in the bank. 

"I got into this race originally because I wanted to carry on Ron’s conservative legacy when he retired to run for the Senate," Mooney said in a statement on his campaign's Facebook page .  

"Now that he is running in the 6th District, I will end my campaign," Mooney said, endorsing DeSantis for re-election. 

If any of these Republicans wanted to pursue a campaign for Congress elsewhere, a run in the neighboring 4th District could be appealing. Current Rep. Ander Crenshaw is retiring at the end of this Congress, leaving an open seat in a Safe Republican district.

If a candidate like Mooney, who loaned his campaign $200,000, did slide over to that race, he wouldn’t necessarily be the favorite. Both former Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford and attorney Hans Tanzler III enjoy strong establishment support in the district.

Rutherford got in the race in April. He starts with high name recognition in Jacksonville and secured the backing of prominent civic leaders and GOP donor Peter Rummell . He has not yet had to file an FEC report.

Tanzler hasn’t had to file an FEC report yet either, but he’s expected to be able to pour several million dollars into his campaign. The money may not be flowing yet though, if his recent ad is any indication.

While Tanzler is the son of a former Jacksonville mayor, he’s never run for elected office before. And he’s using that outsider credential to play up his candidacy.

“I’m the only one who has not been tied to government and relied on government,” Tanzler told The Florida Times-Union in May.

Also in the race are St. Johns County Commissioner Bill McClure, state Rep. Lake Ray and former Navy intelligence officer Julia Fletcher. None have filed FEC reports.

Federal candidates in Florida can qualify for the Aug. 30 primary ballot either by submitting petitions or by paying a $10,400 fee. But in the next three days, the only way to make it onto the ballot is to pay the fee. The petition deadline has passed.

Even after they’ve paid, candidates can switch districts, or in DeSantis’ case, even races, as long as they do it before noon on June 24.

Contact Pathé at  simonepathe@rollcall.com  and follow her on Twitter at  @sfpathe .

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