Sen. Marco Rubio announced Wednesday that he will seek reelection to the Senate, a risky political move and a reversal from his previous vow to return to private life following a failed White House bid.
Rubio’s about-face launches a high-stakes gamble for the charismatic young Republican. If he wins a second term, he could help Republicans in their uphill struggle to keep control of the Senate this fall. But an embarrassing defeat would brand him as a two-time loser, potentially damaging his future presidential prospects.
In a statement released Wednesday, Rubio, 45, said his decision was motivated by a concern that neither a Hillary Clinton nor a Donald Trump administration would be able to adequately handle the challenges ahead, including such issues as terrorism and a slowing economy.
“No matter who is elected president, there is reason for worry. With Hillary Clinton, we would have four more years of the same failed economic policies that have left us with a stagnant economy,” Rubio said.
But he also called the prospect of a Trump presidency “worrisome. … It is no secret that I have significant disagreements with Donald Trump. His positions on many key issues are still unknown. And some of his statements, especially about women and minorities, I find not just offensive but unacceptable. If he is elected, we will need senators willing to encourage him in the right direction, and if necessary, stand up to him. I’ve proven a willingness to do both.”
Rubio faced considerable pressure to run. Florida will be a key swing state this fall. With Clinton polling strong against Trump, Democrats saw a prime opportunity to pick up the Sunshine State’s Senate seat, particularly after Rubio’s initial decision to retire.
With Rubio back in the race, Democratic chances of winning the seat are narrower, but the road ahead is not guaranteed for Rubio, either. He still must clear a crowded Republican primary field, which could be difficult at a time when voters prefer outsider candidates. His decision just days before the Friday candidate filing deadline left some Republican rivals fuming.
Millionaire businessman Carlos Beruff has vowed to dip into his own wealth beyond the nearly $4 million he’s already spent to prevent Rubio from winning the Aug. 30 primary.
But Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a longtime Rubio ally who was counting on the senator to headline a fundraiser Friday, suspended his campaign after Rubio joined the race.
Democrats say they relish the opportunity to try to topple Rubio, dismissing him as an opportunist who cited the Orlando, Fla., shooting as one of the reasons for his decision to try to stay in office.
“He is cravenly using the deadliest mass shooting in American history as the springboard to go back on his word and further his political career,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Communications Director Sadie Weiner.
But Democrats face their own primary battle between the party’s preferred candidate, Rep. Patrick Murphy, and the more progressive Rep. Alan Grayson, who faces ethics complaints.
I have only said like 10000 times I will be a private citizen in January.— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) May 17, 2016
After ending his presidential campaign in March, Rubio repeatedly said he was returning to private life. “I have only said like 10000 times I will be a private citizen in January,” he tweeted in May.
But GOP leaders had other ideas, particularly after Trump became the Republican Party’s presumed presidential nominee.
GOP leaders have been increasingly worried that Trump’s polarizing campaign will hurt down-ballot candidates, endangering Republicans’ Senate majority. With several lesser-known Republicans vying for Rubio’s seat, none was gaining traction the way officials believe Rubio could.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky personally warned that keeping Florida was crucial not just for the Senate majority, but to Rubio’s own future White House aspirations.
GOP senators and donors piled on. And even Trump, who disparaged “Little Marco” on the campaign trail, recently tweeted, “Run Marco!”
“There’s so much pressure on him to get back in,” said Nick Iarossi, a Tallahassee, Fla.-based Republican fundraiser. “He’s really agonized about it.”
But Rubio faces new challenges that have dimmed his once-rising-star status.
The first-term Republican’s popularity suffered from his failed presidential run. During the campaign, he unapologetically skipped Senate votes and aired his frustration with the slow-moving Congress — though he has since argued that reports of his displeasure with Washington were overblown.
“I never said I hated the Senate,” Rubio said when returning to work in April. “I enjoy being a senator, but I really believed the best place for me to contribute was as a president.”
In attempting to stand up to Trump’s personal attacks during the bitter primary, Rubio brought presidential politics to a new low by making a negative reference about the size of Trump’s penis. He later apologized for the remark.
Rubio’s campaign war chest is also diminished, though fundraising is expected to start up quickly and super PAC donors can fuel his reelection bid.
Another loss in 2016 would certainly be a setback to a future White House bid, which many expect Rubio will pursue in 2020. But it is a risk Rubio appears willing to take.
“He’s a political creature,” said GOP strategist David Johnson, a former state party official and ally of former presidential candidate Jeb Bush. “People who are born that way — they’re born to run — like greyhounds they have to run.”
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11:10 a.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from Marco Rubio.
8:20 a.m.: This article was updated with Marco Rubio’s statement officially announcing his reelection bid.
This article was originally published at 7:29 a.m.