There was a growing consensus among opinion-makers that U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy was the front-runner for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio. Intelligent, well organized and financed, young and good-looking, Murphy represents the future of the Democratic Party.
With Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump in Florida, it looked like an easy pick-up for the Democrats in their quest to regain Senate control. So you can imagine the high-fives Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his cohorts were doing when Marco Rubio announced this week that he would reverse course and run for re-election to the Senate.
Now the race is competitive again. That is good for the Republicans perhaps, but what about Rubio?
In the political sense of the word, I have always considered Rubio a friend. He is politically gifted, smart and immensely likeable, qualities I admire in a politician.
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In the political community, like any other, people of opposite views often talk to each other in confidence. I know that some of Rubio’s longtime friends were hoping he would not run for re-election right now. For one thing, assuming he still wants to be president, the U.S. Senate has historically been a poor launching pad for the presidency, despite the fact that it was not a hindrance to the current White House occupant.
Also, a primary race is fraught with political risks. Rubio should easily win the Republican primary, but he may face a well-financed opponent in Carlos Beruff, who will constantly remind voters that Rubio went back on a commitment not to run, had a poor attendance record while serving and has said that being in the Senate was a waste of his time.
Given Murphy’s aforementioned strengths, it only gets tougher in the general election should Rubio win the primary. Rubio has already astutely said that Florida needs a senator willing to hold Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump accountable when necessary. It was a good shot at neutralizing his antipathy to Trump and many of his positions. However, he cannot totally escape the Republican nominee’s shadow any more than anyone else up and down the Republican ticket.
Additionally, the Clintons have historical roots in Florida. Hillary Clinton is certainly the early favorite to capture the state in November, making the Senate race more challenging.
There are much smarter people than I who can and will handicap the Senate race between now and November. However, if Marco Rubio had asked me for advice I would have talked about the one thing I actually know something about.
I spent my 20s as chairman of the Democratic Party of Dade County and then served 12 years in the Florida Legislature before retiring at the age of 47. It is incredibly gratifying, but exacts a professional and personal price. It is not easy for spouses and children when one parent is in an all-consuming profession like politics.
Murphy’s career has been as bold as Rubio’s. However, he is only 33, single and has an established career he can return to. Rubio, on the other hand is still young at 45 but has four children and apparently modest assets.
One of the criticisms of Rubio in the presidential campaign is that he is a career politician, which is true. But he has marketable assets that would allow him to burnish his private-sector credentials and accrue financial security for himself and his family.
If he had asked, I would have suggested he do that while maintaining a high profile in the Republican Party. It certainly would not compromise his ability to run again for president in four or eight years. In fact, it may enhance it. This seems a better alternative than winning re-election at significant financial sacrifice or losing and finding your political career over before your 50.
I can assure you the Republican Senate Campaign Committee did not suggest that to Rubio and, alas, he did not ask me what I thought. After all, we may be political friends, but I am a Democrat.
Mike Abrams is former chairman of the Dade Democratic Party, a former state legislator and currently a policy adviser to Ballard Partners.