Sen. Marco RubioMarco Rubio House passes water bill with Flint aid, drought relief What the 2016 election can tell us about 2018 midterms Fight over water bill heats up in Senate MORE (R-Fla.) is making all the moves of a potential presidential candidate.
He has a new book coming out laying out his vision for the country, a typical move of a presidential contender. The Republican helped a number of early-state candidates on the stump in 2014. And he's working with Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanOvernight Healthcare: Burwell huddles with Dems on fighting ObamaCare repeal Reid: Bring back the earmarks Ryan: GOP won’t ‘pull the rug out’ from 'Dreamers' MORE (R-Wis.) to craft an overarching GOP replacement for ObamaCare.
Next up is a decision on whether to run for reelection or the White House.
"We're going to think about it, we're going to spend the next few weeks like anybody else would, and we'll figure out the right choice sometime early next year," Rubio told The Hill this week. "We're going to continue to do our work and figure out what the right choice is."
But the decision of whether to continue down the road to the White House or retrench for reelection in perennial swing state Florida is likely to come before it becomes clear what his former mentor, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), is going to do.
If he runs, Rubio has a real chance to become the establishment favorite in the race, though he will face competition for that mantle from Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) should they run.
The GOP field will be crowded either way, and there is no guarantee the freshman senator will be able to raise the funds necessary for a serious national run if his mentor jumps in.
Rubio’s stock took a hit with the conservative base last year over his work on immigration reform. However, that simultaneously boosted Rubio’s status with the donor class, a standing he’s helped increase by making his mark as a leading GOP voice for robust internationalism and a muscular foreign policy.
He’s also made smart tactical moves, both in helping others and boosting his own brand.
Rubio barnstormed the country this past summer and fall, stumping for key GOP candidates. He lent top staff to help elect successful Sen.-elect Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). He used crises in Ukraine and the Middle East to not only slam President Obama’s foreign policy but begin to lay out his own foreign policy message.
His new book, American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone, will come out in January and promises to expand on his oft-discussed themes of middle-class opportunity and economic mobility. The traditional tome is a sure-fire way to stir presidential speculation, though it’s sometimes hard to distinguish whether would-be candidates are using presidential buzz to sell books or using books to push a potential candidacy.
“I legitimately don't think Marco has made up his mind yet,” said Rick Wilson, a Florida-based GOP strategist with ties to Rubio. “He's positioning himself so that all the options are available. All the steps he's taking are also things he'd be doing if he was going to run for Senate again. He's a guy who likes to talk about big ideas and do things. When he was speaker of the [Florida] house he wrote a book too.”
Rubio has also used President Obama’s moves towards an executive order to stop deportations on millions of illegal immigrants as a way to show he’s different from Democrats on immigration.
“It will be deeply divisive,” he said Thursday of the pending executive action. “I've been saying that for months and I'm glad others are beginning to say the same thing because it's true. If he takes executive action I believe it will make it harder, even impossible in the short term, to achieve what we're trying to achieve in immigration reform.”
While Rubio would start out as the favorite for reelection to his Senate seat, he isn’t guaranteed victory in swing-state Florida even if he decides to run again — another reason to make an early decision.
His approval rating was 40 percent in Florida in a recent poll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, with 41 percent disapproving. Democrats would have to land a top-tier candidate —a tall task in a state where their bench is surprisingly thin — but the earlier he turns his attention to a Senate race, the easier it will be for him to raise the funds needed in an exceptionally expensive state.
“This is a state where we just spent $100 million on an election and the Senate race will cost at least half that. It's hard to parallel track two races anymore, especially here,” said Wilson.
Bush doesn’t have the same time pressures. His strong family brand means he won’t have to spend as much time introducing himself to voters or have hurdles in raising the substantial sums needed to mount a presidential campaign.
Strategists are more skeptical Bush runs than Rubio does, but even those close to the former governor acknowledge they’re unsure what he does.
“Marco is probably further along the decision-making process than Jeb,” said one source close to both men.
“There are three people in the world who knows what Jeb's going to do and everyone else is full of shit. If the answers aren't coming from Jeb, Mike or Sally, it's bulls--t,” said another GOP strategist in both Bush’s and Rubio’s orbits, referring to Bush’s top advisors, Mike Murphy and Sally Bradshaw.
Rubio says he hasn’t talked to Bush anytime recently —but if he did says “I wouldn't tell the press about it” — and claims Bush isn’t on his mind.
“That's not going to be something that's going to be a factor one way or the other. I've got to make a decision for myself,” he told The Hill.
Those close to both Bush and Rubio downplay any conflict.
“Ugh, I'm so damn tired of talking about the supposed potential Bush vs. Rubio, ‘brother against brother’ political docudrama that I know is not going on and will not happen,” Florida-based GOP strategist Ana Navarro said when asked about the dynamic.
But if both run, competition will be inevitable as they’ll be competing for some of the same resources, voters and endorsements.
And even if Bush isn’t part of Rubio’s decision-making process, what he does will inevitably have an impact on his protégé.
“I think the math affects more people outside the Rubio decision-making circle than it matters inside it. It affects fundraising and donor types more than the political calculus,” said Wilson. “There's a lot of shorthand right now in the minds of donors that Jeb's charisma and Marco's charisma are of the same category. A lot of donors say Jeb and Marco can both reach beyond the base and are aspirational about how they reach beyond the base.”