Florida Senate candidate says he'll abandon bid if Rubio runs

Florida Senate candidate says he'll abandon bid if Rubio runs
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Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) said Friday he would abandon his bid to replace retiring GOP Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPompeo: Countries must 'step up,' provide 'transparent' coronavirus information to save lives China did not count coronavirus positives if patient had no symptoms: report Trump seeks to sell public on his coronavirus response MORE if the senator reverses course and decides to run for reelection.

In March, Rubio said he was retiring from the Senate and taking a break from politics after quitting the race for the White House. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Trump resists pressure for nationwide stay-at-home order | Trump open to speaking to Biden about virus response | Fauci gets security detail | Outbreak creates emergency in nursing homes McConnell: Pelosi trying to 'jam' Senate on fourth coronavirus relief bill On The Money: House Dems push huge jobs project in wake of coronavirus | Trump leans on businesses in virus response | Lawmakers press IRS to get relief checks to seniors MORE (R-Ky.) and other party leaders have been publicly and privately urging Rubio to reconsider his decision, believing that the young, charismatic senator is the GOP’s best shot to hold the seat.

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“I got into an open U.S. Senate race. I didn’t get in to challenge a sitting U.S. Senate incumbent, particularly not one like Marco Rubio,” Jolly, a former lobbyist and Capitol Hill staffer, told The Hill just off the House floor. “If Marco runs, I’ve said I will support Marco. I will step out. …

“And I would call on my other opponents in the primary to also drop out.”

One of five Senate candidates vying for the GOP nomination, Jolly said it’s possible he might instead run for reelection to his House seat against Democrat Charlie Crist, the former GOP governor and President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaPoll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Can you kill a virus with a gun? Biden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much MORE ally who switched parties in 2012.

Jolly hasn’t personally spoken to Rubio about the situation, but he said his gut tells him Rubio “gets in.” 

“It’s been too well-orchestrated. He’s a sitting U.S. senator who’s been asked to run” by party leaders, Jolly said. “I think particularly given the recruiting effort going on by McConnell, the NRSC, the Chamber [of Commerce], not only will that encourage Rubio, but they’ve also pretty much frozen the other Senate candidates in Florida.

“They could not have played this worse. … What they have done is play with fire in a really bad way. They basically took five candidates who were running and really in good position, and threw them all under the bus,” Jolly continued.

“They basically have ensured that if Rubio doesn’t get in, [Democrat] Patrick Murphy is the next U.S. senator from Florida.”

Rubio has until a June 24 filing deadline to make a decision, although Florida Republicans said they expect to hear from the senator within the next week.

“I remain hopeful” about Rubio, said GOP strategist Josh Holmes, a former top aide to McConnell.

McConnell’s not just applying pressure directly on Rubio; he’s also reaching out to others in the senator’s orbit asking them to encourage Rubio to run. As McConnell walked onto the House floor this week for India Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address, he stopped and greeted GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who runs in the same Cuban American circles as Rubio in Miami.

McConnell’s message: Do your best to convince Rubio to run.

“Every recent indication points to a Rubio run for reelection,” Curbelo told The Hill. “I know he has received myriad messages of encouragement, and Senator McConnell raised the issue with me when we saw each other at this week's joint session.” 

However, not all share Jolly and Curbelo’s view. Rubio this week said, “nothing’s changed” since he announced he’s done with politics. And two sources close to the 45-year-old father of four say they’re positive he won’t run.

“People should listen to what Marco has said over and over for the past year or so. He is looking forward to life in the private sector,” said one of the sources.

One factor that’s likely to keep Rubio out of the race is the fact that one of his closest friends in politics, Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, is one of the five Republicans running to succeed him.

“They are tight and I don’t think [Rubio] wants to jump in and push him out,” said Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), who served in the state legislature with Rubio. Both Webster and Rubio served as Speaker of the Florida state House.

But Rubio could cut a deal with Lopez-Cantera, saying he’d support him for governor in 2018 if the lieutenant governor drops his Senate bid.

Another Senate hopeful, conservative Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), said he would have no hard feelings if Rubio decides to run. 

“I get it. Florida is very difficult to have name ID. … That’s why statewide incumbents usually get reelected in Florida. And if you look at both sides of the aisle, a bunch of us are not known and so it’s going to require a lot of money. They got a lot of pieces they have to play on the [Senate] map and there’s limited funding,” DeSantis said in an interview.

“It’s not like Rubio has started this and said, ‘I want to get back in,’ ” the congressman added. “He was more passive and they came to him is my understanding.”

What’s clear is that Rubio’s presidential ambitions haven’t been extinguished with his failed 2016 bid. His team hasn’t closed the door on a possible 2020 campaign if Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Whoopi Goldberg presses Sanders: 'Why are you still in the race?' Poll: Biden holds slight edge on Trump in Wisconsin MORE defeats Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign: Trump and former vice president will have phone call about coronavirus Esper: Military personnel could help treat coronavirus patients 'if push comes to shove' Schumer calls for military official to act as medical equipment czar MORE this fall.

And several in the Florida delegation said Rubio would have a much easier time ascending to the White House from his Senate seat rather than a job in the private sector.

“If he chooses to [run], he would be successful at it. Some more years” in the Senate “would not hurt Marco, and the party would reach out to Marco years from now to lead the next generation,” said GOP Rep. Dennis Ross, who served in the Florida statehouse when Rubio was Speaker there. 

“If he leaves the elected arena, it makes it more difficult. He might be able to increase his personal wealth, but to be able to show a roadmap of policy decisions, it’s important to be a good leader in the political arena.”