Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the Miami Herald on March 5, 2009.
Typically, a person who decides to run for public office sends out a press release and makes an announcement in front of as many television cameras as can be persuaded to show up.
And if that person is former House Speaker Marco Rubio, and the public office is an open U.S. Senate seat, a media throng would dutifully deliver a blast of free publicity.
Yet without any fanfare, Rubio registered as a Senate candidate one month ago, hired a prized fundraiser for former Gov. Jeb Bush, and conducted a national search for a campaign manager.
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Hollywood eye doctor Alan Mendelsohn is billing a fundraiser at his home Thursday as the “Marco Rubio U.S. Senate Kickoff.”
Rubio says he’s only “testing the waters” and named his campaign account the “Marco Rubio Senate Exploratory Committee,” but in the eyes of the Federal Election Commission, he’s a candidate.
“I believe in being honest, and I genuinely am in an exploratory phase,” Rubio said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
“When I decide whether to run, trust me, everyone will know.”
The low-key approach allows Rubio to cultivate donors and activists around the state and assemble a campaign team while tamping down expectations about poll numbers and fundraising. If Gov. Charlie Crist decides to run for the Senate, Rubio is expected to switch gears and run for governor — most likely making the announcement at a traditional press conference.
“The approach Rubio has taken gives him some wiggle room,” said political consultant Jamie Miller, who worked on Katherine Harris’ Senate campaign in 2006.
Crist has said he will make his plans after the annual lawmaking session ends May 1.
The possibility of the popular governor getting into the race makes it awkward for potential candidates — or even actual candidates like Rubio — to launch high-profile bids.
Other possible contenders, including U.S. Reps. Connie Mack and Vern Buchanan of southwest Florida, can hold off on registering as Senate candidates because they can raise money for existing congressional accounts. That money, should Crist decide to run for another term, could be easily transferred to a Senate campaign.
On the Democratic side, the leading candidates are U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami, state Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach and North Miami Mayor Kevin Burns.
Former President Bill Clinton is scheduled to headline a fundraiser for Meek on Friday in Jacksonville.