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Open Florida Senate Seat Moves to Pure Tossup

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is expected to announce his presidential campaign on April 13 in Miami, improving Democratic prospects for a takeover in the Sunshine State’s 2016 Senate contest.  

The race would still have been competitive if Rubio opted to seek a second term — we had it rated as Tossup/Tilt Republican. Without him, it’s difficult to give the GOP a distinguishable advantage. No Republican has won more than 50 percent of the vote in a Florida Senate race since Connie Mack’s re-election in 1994. We’re changing The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call rating of the Florida Senate race to Pure Tossup.  

For all its attention as a battleground state in presidential races, Florida hasn’t hosted a close Senate contest since 2004, when Republican Mel Martinez defeated Democrat Betty Castor, 49.4 percent to 48.3 percent. This cycle looks likely to be close once again, but the candidate fields are still taking shape.  

Rep. Patrick Murphy is in on the Democratic side and hoping to consolidate party support quickly. Rep. Gwen Graham would be a formidable candidate, but she seems inclined to run for re-election in 2016 and run statewide in 2018, for governor or for the Senate, if Democrat Bill Nelson retires. Murphy’s House colleague, Alan Grayson, is still publicly toying with a bid and is the type of candidate who may still get into the race because he doesn’t take marching orders from the party establishment.  

On the Republican side, the most likely GOP candidates include state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, and Rep. Ron DeSantis. Rep. Vern Buchanan and state Attorney General Pam Bondi may run as well.  

Rubio has previously said he would choose to run for either the White House or re-election, and there is little chance he will attempt to change course in the middle of the cycle, according to GOP sources. On one hand, it seems early for a 43-year-old lawmaker to put his political career on the line. But there is a decent chance Rubio appears on the 2016 GOP ticket somehow, either as the nominee or someone else’s running mate. And if Rubio is unsuccessful this cycle, there will be statewide opportunities in 2018.  

If Rubio happens to change his mind this year, we will re-evaluate the race accordingly.  

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