Marco Rubio To Run For Re-Election To Florida Senate Seat
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When Florida Senator Marco Rubio dropped out of the Republican presidential race, he suggested he would take a break from politics. Today, he announced he is going to run for re-election this fall. His decision shakes up a race that could determine whether Republicans or Democrats control the Senate. NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis reports.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Rubio's announcement that he will run for re-election probably comes as a shock to most voters who have heard nothing but this from him for over a year now.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MARCO RUBIO: Yes, I've worked in the Senate for four years, but that I'm not a product - I'm not of the Senate. I'm not running for re-election to the Senate because I want to be president. I want - I'm going to finish out my term in the Senate over the next 10 months, and then I'll be a private citizen in January.
DAVIS: But just 48 hours before Florida's candidate deadline, Rubio announced on "Fox News" that he had simply changed his mind.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS")
RUBIO: I know people in politics don't like to admit that they've changed their mind, but I changed my mind. And people sort of deserve to know why.
DAVIS: Yes, he still thinks the Senate is a frustrating place to work. But he told Fox his reversal was driven by the fact that the Senate will be a powerful check on the next president, and he wants to be part of that check.
RUBIO: The Senate's role of being able to act as a check and balance on bad ideas from the president, I think, are going to matter more in 2017 than they perhaps ever have in our history.
DAVIS: Rubio's candid admission that he is equally concerned about a check on a Donald Trump administration as he is a Hillary Clinton administration highlights just how critical control of the Senate will be to the next president. It's why Republicans have been privately working Rubio for months to change his mind. Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner says Rubio's reversal is about more than just his race.
CORY GARDNER: This isn't just about Florida. This changes the dynamics of the entire Senate majority. And if you're Harry Reid, today's not a very good day for you.
DAVIS: Republicans control the Senate with a 54-seat majority, which means Democrats need to win five seats outright or four seats and hold the White House to take control. Jennifer Duffy is an elections analyst for The Cook Political Report. She says Democrats are still favored to pick up seats this year and that Florida is still a coin toss, but Rubio's reversal is an undeniable boost for Republicans.
JENNIFER DUFFY: Having Rubio in the race changes that equation enormously, so I think that it probably improves Republicans' chances of keeping the seat.
DAVIS: Rubio's re-election is not a sure bet. He still has to win the August primary against two well-funded opponents who are already casting Rubio as an opportunist. And if he wins the primary, he faces what will be one of the most contentious races this fall. Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe says Republicans are preparing for this.
JIM INHOFE: I know it's not an easy race. No one thinks it is. And, of course, he did not do as well as people thought he should have in his own state. But that is - again, that's in the past.
DAVIS: That past Inhofe is referring to is the 2016 Florida presidential primary. Rubio lost all but one county to Donald Trump in his home state. His weak performance there is just one of the reasons Democrats are confident they can beat Rubio. And there's another reason Democrats are confident. Here's how Florida Senator Bill Nelson put it.
BILL NELSON: I think Hillary is going to sweep Florida so big that it's going to be in effect all the way down the ballot.
DAVIS: Montana Democrat Jon Tester runs Senate Democrats' campaign operation. He says Rubio still has a lot to explain to Florida voters.
JON TESTER: But the truth is there's a lot of things he's got to explain, you know. Is this a second prize? How come he missed so many votes? Is he going to run for president again in two, three years?
DAVIS: One of Rubio's primary opponents wants Rubio to sign a pledge saying that if he wins, he will serve out his entire six-year Senate term, preempting him from running for president again in 2020. But as Rubio showed today, it's always possible he could change his mind. Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol.
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