The belated effort to recruit Rubio to seek re-election is backfiring on Republicans:
In essence, the Beltway chatter surrounding Rubio has created the impression that the five current GOP candidates — Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Reps. Ron DeSantis and David Jolly, and businessmen Carlos Beruff and Todd Wilcox — are dead men walking five months before Election Day in a closely divided, critical piece of Republicans’ 54-seat Senate majority.
It is fitting that continued interest in Rubio among party leaders is hurting the GOP’s chances of holding the seat, as it was partly their earlier enthusiasm for him that helped encourage him to give up the seat to run for president. In failing to discourage Rubio’s presidential bid and then trying to get him to change his mind on the Senate run, Republican leaders have managed to create a worst-case scenario for their side of the Florida Senate race: they lost the incumbent to a misguided run for the White House, and then sandbagged the candidates that stepped up to replace him.
The practical problem isn’t just that top Republicans are dismissing the chances of Rubio’s would-be replacements. Donors are responding to these cues by withholding their money:
The Republican campaigns already running for Rubio’s seat complain that the improbable move to lure the senator into the race has paralyzed donors during a crucial stretch of the electoral calendar. And it doesn’t help, they say, that leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are proclaiming that only Rubio can win in November, essentially warning donors not to waste their money — or that outside groups, including Senate Leadership Fund and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have indicated they might sit Florida out unless the sitting senator is on the ballot.
Because campaigning in Florida relies heavily on television advertising and the large state has several expensive media markets, it is important for the new Senate nominee (whoever it is) to be able to raise a substantial amount of money, but the Rubio rumors are causing that fundraising to dry up when it is very much needed. Rubio took a Senate race that he might have won and turned it into a true toss-up when he chose not to run for re-election. As far as anyone can tell, he isn’t going to change his position on that. Now thanks to some of the party’s top leaders that can’t give up on their Rubio fixation, the chances that the Republicans can hold the seat are diminishing.