Marco Rubio wins reelection to U.S. Senate

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. greets supporters after early voting at the West Miami Community Center, Monday, October 31, 2016.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. greets supporters after early voting at the West Miami Community Center, Monday, October 31, 2016. AP

Marco Rubio is headed back to the U.S. Senate with his prospects of another run for president intact.

Rubio defeated two-term Congressman Patrick Murphy, who couldn’t overcome poor name recognition or questions about embellishments on his résumé.

The Associated Press called the race for Rubio shortly after 8 p.m. EST.

Tuesday’s outcome was not a surprise given Rubio never trailed in 47 consecutive public polls of the race since he jumped into the contest in June. Yet given that Rubio emphatically stated he would not run for re-election six months ago, the outcome was still improbable.

“I have only said like 10,000 times I will be a private citizen in January,” Rubio declared on social media in May.

That pronouncement came after Rubio was trounced in the March Republican primary, when he lost all but one Florida county, Miami-Dade, to Donald Trump.

Still, Rubio was seen as a life boat for national Republicans who became increasingly concerned that they would lose the seat and the majority in the U.S. Senate. Rubio easily won the Republican primary against candidates who didn’t have his renown or fundraising abilities.

Rubio, 45, didn’t disappoint.

From the start, he overmatched Murphy by campaigning as the more accomplished legislator. Murphy, 33, is finishing only his second term in Congress and would be six years younger than the next youngest member of the Senate had he won. Murphy has never passed any legislation, a point Rubio was all too quick to remind voters on the campaign trail.

In the closing weeks of the campaign, Rubio stressed his work on the Everglades, foreign policy, efforts to fight human trafficking globally and pressure he’s brought on slumlords around the state — all evidence to blunt criticism from Democrats that he had been AWOL.

During the last day of early voting on Sunday, Rubio looked confident. He joked and appeared relaxed at a Miami-Dade County Republican Party rally.

Rubio showed up with his wife, Jeanette, and their four children. The two youngest, both boys, quickly found a tree to climb. Rubio sported a white baseball cap embroidered with his campaign logo — and the logo of his beloved Miami Dolphins.

“Don’t tell me the score,” he warned, as state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla promptly told him: “We’re winning!” (The Dolphins defeated the New York Jets 27-23.)

Rubio also quipped he would deliver his remarks in three languages: English, Spanish and “Cuban.”

Beyond giving Rubio a new six-year term in the Senate, the win keeps the Miami Republican in the conversation for another White House run. During the campaign Rubio continually hedged on questions about whether he’d run for president again, never completely ruling it out. During the first debate with Murphy, Rubio said he intended to serve all six years in the Senate if he won. But he added, “God willing,” an important caveat that could allow Rubio to test out his stock in Iowa and New Hampshire over next three years.

Murphy used that hedging as part of an overall general election strategy to relentlessly remind Floridians of Rubio’s well-known flaws — his shoddy attendance record, his unabashed political ambition — but Murphy’s message never dented Rubio’s re-election prospects.

A crowd of Patrick Murphy supporters had no passionate reaction on Election Night, save for a few scattered boos, to Florida's U.S. Senate race being called for Marco Rubio.

Meanwhile, Murphy perpetually deflected or outright denied any of his own flaws, namely well-documented fibs relating to his academic and professional credentials that plagued him since they were uncovered during the summer primary season. Democratic advisers leading get-out-the-vote efforts recently conceded Republicans got the high ground through a barrage of successful attack ads that highlighted Murphy’s résumé gaffes, which defined him for undecided voters before Murphy could introduce himself.

Rubio and Republican forces supporting his re-election vastly outspent Murphy, who had been all-but abandoned earlier this fall when national Democrats turned their investments to brighter prospects who could help them win back the Senate.

National Democrats picked up on the struggles of Murphy’s campaign early on in the general election. They started withdrawing valuable ad time reserved last spring at a time when Murphy seemed a shoe-in for the Senate against a field of even-more-unknown Republicans. In all, Democrats pulled out at least $16 million in dedicated spending that could have helped Murphy boost his name ID and elevate his campaign.

Political observers publicly — and some Florida Democrats privately — repeatedly lamented during the months-long campaign that Murphy wasn’t “ready for prime time” and questioned why Democrats anointed him as their chosen candidate so early, rather than find a stronger contender against the battle-tested Rubio.

Wallace reported from Tallahassee, Clark reported from Palm Beach Gardens and Ovalle reported from Miami.

Miami Herald Political Writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.