Elections Central: Can Florida help Republicans win the Senate?

The state of Florida brought us the Miami Heat and the “Greatest Place on Earth,” right next to a nail-biting 2000 Presidential election. It was a key state then, and remains a key state today. It’s an ideal testing ground for general elections because of its large number of media markets and distinct regions that emulate the rest of the country: the Panhandle is similar to the deep South, and the “central I-4 corridor is a key swing area, temperamentally “like St. Louis with palm trees,”" among other similarities.

This time around, Florida produced a major Republican contender for the presidency: Senator Marco Rubio. After losing his home state to businessman Donald Trump, he withdrew his candidacy for the Republican nomination, also pledging not to seek re-election to the United States Senate and return to a private life.

In an article written last week we outlined the importance of individual Senate races to the larger picture: If the presidency goes to Donald Trump, Democrats would need to win five seats to obtain a majority, versus four seats if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency. If Senator Rubio gave up his seat, then the race in Florida was “likely a loss,” according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). If Senator Rubio ran for re-election then the state would become “an almost certain pick up,” according to McConnell. Funds could then be reallocated toward funding more imperiled Republican candidates.

The importance of sustaining (for the Republican Party) or winning (for the Democratic Party) a majority in the Senate cannot be understated. Here lies the key to the impending Supreme Court confirmation, the Iran Deal, and the future of other important policies. Citing these reasons, Senator Rubio reversed his pledge not to run for re-election and announced that he had “changed his mind.”

With Senator Rubio staying in the race, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera, U.S. Representatives Ron DeSantis and David Jolly, along with businessman Todd Wilcox dropped out of the race. Senator Rubio’s main challenger in the Republican primary is Carlos Beruff, who has stayed in the race after spending $8 million of his own money on this run for office. A Mason-Dixon poll reports that Rubio is ahead of Beruff 61 to 22 percent.

Winning the primary, Rubio will likely square off against Democratic Representative Patrick Murphy (FL-18), who is running against Representative Alan Grayson (FL-09), who is least favored by the Democratic Party as the best candidate against Rubio for his far-left brand (which, as mentioned above, seems a bit out of touch with Florida’s “swing state” politics) and his colorful personality.

Winning endorsements by the top leaders in the Democratic Party, including President Obama, Vice President Biden, and many other party favorites, the 33-year-old congressman has an uphill battle to fight against the incumbent Senator. The Republican Party has mocked him as a young and over ambitious candidate lacking in accomplishment.

Senator Rubio is fighting a battle against one of his own accomplishments: he has the “No. 1 absentee record in the United States” Senate. This is a quote by Presidential hopeful Donald Trump, a quote that has been fact checked by Politifact and rated as “Mostly True.” Within the last year, Senator Rubio has missed the highest percentage of votes than other senators, including his opponents for the presidency. However, Politifact also made the distinction that if we look at the career truancy records, Rubio and Cruz are “tied at 14.8 percent absentee rates.”

This record is serious ammunition for Rubio’s opponents. Or is it? Interestingly enough, President Obama missed as much as 80% of votes during his time as Senator in 2007, yet he won the presidency anyway. Of course, President Obama’s case study is much different from the scenario that Senator Rubio faces. The Washington Post reports that “no one thought that Obama was lazy or slacked off, so the attack didn't find fertile ground. If Trump, Bush or some other Republican in the field can use Rubio's missed Senate votes as part of a pattern of a guy who is always looking for his next move rather than doing the job to which he is elected then, maybe, they could hurt Rubio badly with the attack.”

On the other hand, the Democratic primary let out plenty of attack lines for the Republican Party too: controversy over Representative Alan Grayson's Cayman Islands hedge fund and allegations over his ex-wife could help paint the party in negative light just in time for November elections. Cook Political has rated the Florida Senate race as a toss up. Even though Rubio will win the Republican nomination, it will still be a tough battle against Democratic opponent, Representative Patrick Murphy in the general election.