Misplaced Marco-Mania

Guest Correspondence


National leadership for the Republican Party has clearly grown anxious about Florida’s Senate race. For some mysterious reason, there exists concern that a divided Republican field will fracture the electorate and produce a candidate who won’t fare well in November, so an effort to recruit retiring Sen. Marco Rubio has begun. The senator would be wise, though, to ignore calls that are tone-deaf to true feelings in the state.

Much of the rush surely comes from a Mason-Dixon poll released this week that reports 77 percent of Republican voters want Rubio to join the race. Yet, I suspect even if the incumbent wanted to run (he so far indicates he won’t), it's already too late. It’s not just that many of the best campaign professionals already committed themselves months ago to the five major Republicans already running, but that Rubio’s ambitious but ultimately fruitless bid for the White House left too many in his own party feeling under-represented far too long.

Consider a trip by students from a Sarasota middle school to Washington D.C. earlier this year. Rubio was supposed to give students a tour of the Capitol, but he was double-booked, so Congressional staffs for other Florida representatives had to take over. The message to many was clear; his constituents were not a priority. Add that to a list of concerns from a Washington Post report that Rubio didn’t even like the Senate much. “He hates it” read a headline that has plagued Rubio ever since. Rubio denies saying such a thing, but the narrative stuck because he hasn't outwardly demonstrated much love for the job. Rubio infamously boasted the worst voting record of any senator in the nation last year, missing 41 percent of votes between March 2015 and this March, according to GovTrack.us.  

Running for president eats your time up, of course, every sitting senator who starts the march toward Pennsylvania Avenue skips votes and opens themselves up to criticism. But this record stood out, and Florida voters felt abandoned. At a Town Hall meeting in Sarasota in January, a constituent suggested the senator had “already given up” on his day job. By the time the March 15 primary rolled around, just 27 percent of Republican voters in Florida backed Rubio’s candidacy over that of Donald Trump.

In the last days before the presidential primary, polls already showed Rubio would suffer a campaign-crippling loss to Donald Trump in his home state, so I asked politicos if it was too late for the sitting senator to change course and seek re-election. I was surprised by the emotional, hostile response. One Republican told me no candidate would drop out to make room for Rubio because every one felt they could “do a better job representing Florida.”

So what of that Mason-Dixon poll? This far out from the August primary, any poll only measures name recognition. Of the Republicans in the race, Bradenton developer Carlos Beruff leads the field, but with just 17 percent of the vote. Tampa Rep. David Jolly polls second at 13 percent. But 43 percent of voters don’t even recognize Beruff’s name, and 57 percent can’t identify Jolly. I’m told Republicans feel rattled because Palm Beach Rep. Patrick Murphy, the Democratic frontrunner, has 31 percent of his party’s support, but he is in a two-man race with Orlando Rep. Alan Grayson. Both of those men are unknowns with more than a third of the Democratic electorate.

All this will change by the Aug. 30 state primary, and after each party picks a nominee, a barrage of ads will introduce all voters to the candidates appearing on a November ballot. Rubio’s only advantagename recognitionwill disappear.

But repairing Rubio’s reputation will take longer. To be sure, most Republicans have hopes for Rubio long-term. Maybe some private sector success or a two-year campaign for governor could change things. But for now, his unsuccessful presidential campaign operation will have trouble building together a coalition. And entering this contest weeks before a June 24 qualifying deadline, after five Republicans spent months building a positive statewide reputation, won’t help.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ Media Group. 

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