The deadliest mass shooting in America targeting his home state in an age of terror may be the catalyst that provokes Marco Rubio to try to stay in the U.S. Senate, friends and supporters of the Miami Republican said Monday.
Rubio, who for months had said he will not seek reelection to the Senate for the term that expires in January, told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt on Monday that he had “been deeply impacted by” the Orlando shooting and was reconsidering the leadership role he could have to target terror.
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“I think when it visits your home state, when it impacts a community you know well, it really gives you pause to think a little bit about your service to your country and where you can be most useful to your country,” Rubio said after the shooting left 49 dead and dozens injured.
Rubio denied that he was reconsidering his future explicitly from “a political perspective,” but said “it most certainly has impacted my thinking in general, at least, about a lot of things.”
“My family and I will be praying about all of this,” he added. “And we’ll see what I need to do next with my life with regard to how I can best serve.”
Friends and supporters of Rubio said he views the opportunity for leadership in the wake of the tragedy a pivotal reason to reconsider his decision.
“I don’t think he takes for granted the role a U.S. Senate candidate can make on a community on the issues,” said Miami Dade County Commissioner Steve Bovo, Rubio’s long-time friend. “There is such an outcry of people that want him to return, and then you see what’s happening in Orlando, I’m sure the tug on him is overwhelming.”
Bovo said the senator is “keeping his decision close to the vest’’ because he is also torn by the “tug of his family” and four children — all younger than 16.
“I’m sure he’s deciding with a withering gamut of emotions,” Bovo said. “There’s the positive impact he can have on people’s lives and there’s his family. This kind of incident can move the dial.”
Rubio’s spokespersons didn’t return messages seeking comment.
One active Republican, who didn’t want to be named but knows Rubio, said Monday that he believes Rubio will run as long as his wife agrees.
Republicans say that Rubio can point to his foreign policy and terrorism experience as reasons to reconsider a Senate race.
Rubio has until June 24, the deadline for qualifying for the Aug. 30 primary, to decide if he will return to campaigning. His supporters say a more realistic deadline is the next five or six days, to give Republicans in the race an opportunity to decide whether they want to challenge Rubio or seek another seat.
If Rubio decides to run, the calculus will be different — and more risky — than he’s ever had before in politics, said David Custin, Republican political consultant from Miami. In 2010, Rubio ran for the Senate against Charlie Crist as the underdog, and he never drew vigorous challenges in his legislative campaigns.
“If he chooses to do it, it would be one of the most selfless things he’s done because it would be putting a lot of high risk on himself but would help Republicans up and down the ticket — from Key West to Pensacola,” Custin said.
“He’s safer and better off not running for reelection but, if he does it, he’s rolling the dice. He would be expected to win and that’s high risk in politics.”
Susie Wiles, a Republican consultant who has not worked for Rubio, said she doesn’t have any inside information but she said she thinks Rubio would have to take a look at running.
“The events in Orlando are so compelling that given fact that he’s really become not only educated on national security issues but pretty passionate and articulate about them I think he has to think about it,” she said.
Since Rubio dropped out of the presidential primary after losing to Donald Trump in Florida March 15 there has been speculation about his political career and whether he would reconsider and run for reelection.
There was renewed speculation last week after Rubio put his West Miami home back up for sale — asking price $720,000. Spokespersons for Rubio confirmed that the house is for sale but didn’t answer questions regarding if he bought a home elsewhere or why it is for sale.
In May, Republican leaders stepped up their efforts to recruit Rubio to run — Trump tweeted his encouragement in May: “Run Marco!” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, the former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, said he spoke to Rubio last week before the Orlando shooting.
“My sense is he made a decision to go back to being a private citizen and a whole bunch of us looking around saying we need him there,” Curry said. “We need him there because of his talents, gifts and skills and because he can win.”
The Orlando shooting is “a reminder of how serious our foreign policy is, serious issues we are facing as a result of terrorism,” Curry said. “No question Marco Rubio has experience and knowledge in that arena.”
None of the five Republican candidates have stood out in the field, and Republican leaders worry that a Democrat — either Congressmen Alan Grayson or Patrick Murphy — will win the seat.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on MSNBC in May: “We’re doing everything we can to encourage him to run.”
But Rubio has repeatedly said that he supports his friend in the race: Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami. Some say Rubio doesn’t want to be the one to muscle his friend out but if other Republican leaders or groups encourage Lopez-Cantera to drop out that paves the way for Rubio.
As for Republicans recruiting him to run, Rubio told the Miami Herald May 26, “I understand the argument,” adding that “people here have approached me” to run.
“If the circumstances were different, but they’re not,” he said. “This is the fact: that Carlos is in the race, he’s a good friend, he’s a good candidate, he’ll be a great senator. And so my answer today is no different than it was 24, 48, 72 hours ago.”
However, Rubio left himself just a pinch of wiggle room.
When asked what he’d do if Lopez-Cantera weren’t running, Rubio refused to answer, calling the scenario a “hypothetical.”
Perhaps in an effort to dispel rumors that Rubio plans to run, last week Lopez-Cantera announced that Rubio will host a fundraiser for him on June 24 — the same day as the final day of qualifying. The fundraiser will be held at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.
Lopez-Cantera’s campaign spokeswoman, Courtney Alexander, said, “As Lt. Governor, Carlos is focused on the terror attack in Orlando.”
The pressure may be on Lopez-Cantera to drop out.
“If Carlos were to step aside or to drop out I think Marco would seriously consider doing it,” said Nelson Diaz, of Southern Strategy Group and Miami-Dade County GOP chair and Rubio loyalist.
U.S. Rep. David Jolly, one of the GOP Senate candidates who has shown signs recently that he may drop out, said Rubio’s comments to Hewitt made him more convinced Rubio will jump into the race.
“I’ve said all along all signs point to him getting in the race.”
The other Republican candidates are U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, businessman Carlos Beruff and former CIA agent Todd Wilcox.
Bovo, Rubio’s long-time friend and confident, said “I am clueless about what he’s going to do.”
In the meantime, he said that Rubio and other Miami Republicans are still planning the June 24 fundraising for Lopez-Cantera. “I have not been told otherwise that is not on,” he said.
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reporter Jeremy Wallace and McClatchy Washington Bureau staff writer Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report.