SENATE MIDTERMS 2022: Despite challenges, Marco Rubio remains favorite to win Florida
Dems struggling to topple Florida's less controversial Senator, who despite low approval ratings, has managed to hold on for now
When one thinks of a Senator from Florida, Rick Scott is likely to pop up first. After all, he, like many of his colleagues has frequented the airwaves and social media with false claims about Covid-19, and mask mandates. But, 2022 won't be about Scott. Instead, all eyes are on Florida's other Senator - Marco Rubio. Rubio is up for reelection in the 2022 midterms and has already inspired a Democratic challenger in the form of Val Demings, but it looks like the Dems will have a tough fight on their hands.
Rubio may not make headlines as much as Scott, but he's nonetheless found himself in the soup on a couple of occasions. In June 2021, he was trolled for slamming Biden's halt on aid to Ukraine, which he supported when Trump did it. While he was pretty loyal to Trump, there were rumors in early 2021 he would be challenged by Ivanka Trump for the seat, which she later clarified as false.
SENATE MIDTERMS 2022: Can Mark Kelly keep Arizona blue in the face of a red wave?
Without the threat of a Trump challenger, Rubio's path to retaining his seat seems pretty straightforward. After all, he now has the backing of Trump and Florida's traditionally been a safe Republican seat. Despite not raising as much as Demings did in 2021, Rubio appears to have little reason to worry, especially given his strong pro-GOP record.
Rubio's pro-Trump record
Since being elected in 2010, Rubio has been an extremely key alley for Republicans, especially those on the right-wing of the party. GovTrack puts him at par with Senators John Cornyn, John Barrasso, John Kennedy, and Mike Rounds. He's ranked pretty much as far-right, but not as extreme as Senators Ted Cruz to Tom Cotton. In his time, he's sponsored 30 bills that have been enacted, with many being co-sponsored by Democrats such as the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 and the Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act.
But, there's one blemish on his otherwise "perfect" record that Republicans may want to play down - his attendance. In 2016, then-Rep. Patrick Murphy attacked Rubio saying he had "the worst vote attendance record of any Florida senator in nearly 50 years." As of January 2022, he has an average of missing 9.6% of votes, which is far higher than the median of 2% for all currently-serving Senators. In the past, it hasn't proven to be a major controversy. "Voting is not the only part of the Senate job," he said in 2105, after which he garnered nearly 52% of the vote in the 2016 Senatorial elections.
With the GOP becoming the party of Trump, Rubio has been careful to strike a balance on the divisive former President. Rubio refused to impeach him on both occasions, leading Trump to throw his weight behind Rubio's 2022 reelection bid. But unlike some of his colleagues, Rubio isn't a complete pro-Trumper either. The Intelligencer described their relationship as "best of frenemies," writing, "Rubio who struggles most with Trump as a nemesis who must nonetheless be placated, co-opted, and eventually outlasted."
After famously clashing with Trump during the 2016 Presidential campaign, "Lil Marco" managed to put their differences aside while he was in the White House. But 2020 changed everything. Rubio didn't vote to challenge the electoral votes. He's also chosen to remain in the back while others hawk Trump's conspiracy theories and lies, effectively isolating him from the party. That has left Rubio with little presence in the national spotlight, or even in the state's collective imagination with Governor Ron DeSantis now the darling of the right-wing in Florida.
Can Rubio be ousted?
While it's clear his presence (or absence) isn't going to be a big issue for Floridians, Rubio might not be well-served by his unwillingness to fully embrace the Trumpism of his party. Since winning Trump's endorsement in April 2021, he's become even more silent while his party moans Covid-19 restrictions and the Biden presidency in general. Will that silence go on to hurt his electability? It's too early to tell, but judging by polls, it doesn't appear so.
On average, Rubio polled at 47% in various polls, which while less than 50%, still put him at a lead over Demings. If those polls are anything to go by, the Democrats still face an uphill task, despite Rubio's pro-Trump stance. History too isn't on the Dems' side. Since the 2000s, Bill Nelson has been the only Democrat to represent Florida in the Senate. If Demings is to change that, she'll have to do much better than just raising more cash than Rubio. The Dems also have little to attack him on, Given his relative silence over the 2020 election conspiracy theories, and Covid-19.
While Rubio has voted against most of Biden's measures, he's not taken to Fox News or other media outlets to spew baseless lies and claims, which many Democrats see as the key to defeating Republicans. It appears his silence is doing him a favor then, which is what Demings will have to contend with. It also doesn't help that DeSantis is on the ballot this year, which will be a bigger battle for Democrats. Any grassroots efforts to oust DeSantis could take away resources from the efforts to oust Rubio, meaning Dems may have to pick which fight they want to take on this year.
Overall, things look pretty bad for the Democrats and exceptionally good for Rubio. He appears to have found a winning strategy that may push him over the line, even if he can't raise as much as Demings. That said, the fact that Demings is polling pretty close means she has a shot, and may as well take it. A surprise win in the state could after all prove extremely valuable with the Senate split 50-50. For that reason, the race in Florida will definitely be one to watch.
The 2022 midterms are scheduled for November 8, 2022.