Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is telling reporters he stands by his decision not to seek another term in the Senate , even as some of his fellow Republican senators are going public with their calls for him to stick around.
The former presidential candidate said Thursday it was “unlikely” anything could sway him to be a late entrant ahead of the Florida Senate primary’s June 24 filing deadline.
“My sense of it is, nothing has changed in my thinking,” Rubio told reporters. “Part of the reason why is I have a very good friend running for Senate.”
Asked in an earlier interview on Wednesday about making an endorsement in the Florida Senate race, Rubio came close, offering praise for that friend.
“I don’t have anything to announce today. It’ll be done at the appropriate time. I think everyone is aware that I have a long-standing personal friendship beyond politics with Carlos Lopez-Cantera, the lieutenant governor,” Rubio said. “I think he’s a great candidate. I think he’d be a great senator.”
On Thursday, Rubio refused to address whether his position might change were Lopez-Cantera to suspend his bid.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said he has talked to Rubio about seeking re-election.
“I think that would be a great idea if he would do it,” the Texas Republican said, adding that the sentiment was overwhelmingly shared by other GOP senators.
“I think it’s as close to universal as you can get around here,” he said.
Cornyn, a former chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Rubio would be favored if he ran.
“It’s hard to get name ID in a state as big as Florida. It’s kind of like Texas. And you’re doubly hamstrung by the fact that the primary’s late in August and there’s only so much you can do in a short period of time to change it, to turn that around,” Cornyn said. “So he certainly would be the favored candidate, it seems to me.”
Rubio has been focused on his Senate work, including a full agenda at the Foreign Relations Committee, where Chairman Bob Corker is now openly asking Rubio to consider sticking around.
“Marco Rubio is a very valuable member of the Senate — especially in his role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he demonstrates a deep understanding of foreign policy — and earlier this afternoon, I strongly encouraged him to reconsider his decision and seek re-election.” Corker said in a statement.
Republicans are worried that none of the five main GOP candidates running to replace Rubio are capable of winning a difficult general election in a battleground state like Florida. Lopez-Cantera, Reps. David Jolly and Ron DeSantis, developer Carlos Beruff, and Army veteran Todd Wilcox are running in a primary that, for now, lacks a clear front-runner.
One of them will face the winner of the Democratic Senate primary, between Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson, in a race that both parties believe could determine which party holds controls the Senate next year.
Republicans consider the volatile Grayson a better matchup. But they’re worried enough about their own candidates — who have struggled with controversial campaign trail rhetoric and lackluster campaigns — that some GOP strategists are openly fretting that even Grayson could win the seat.
“Grayson could beat that entire field of Republicans,” said Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
At least one of the the Republican Senate candidates running in Florida dismissed the suggestion that Rubio would return to the race.
“Senator Rubio has made clear that he has no intention of running for re-election and we believe him,” said Beruff spokesman Chris Hartline. “As usual, Washington Republicans think they can control the race, but the voters of Florida will decide who our nominee is, and we feel confident about where we are.”
Rubio was somewhat skeptical of the idea that he is the only chance Republicans have to hold the Florida Senate seat.
“People haven’t started focusing in on the Senate race, and so part of it is that,” he said. “It’s not like the Democrats have the greatest candidate. One guy keeps exaggerating his biography and the other guy is a certified lunatic.”
Many Republicans privately concede that getting Rubio to run for the Senate is a long shot. But the senator himself told CNN on Thursday that even if he doesn’t run again this year, it’s a “safe assumption” he’ll run for office again.