Marco Rubio Changing Florida’s Political Landscape

Marco Rubio: A Hall Of Fame Talent

Something subtle but significant happened the other day in Florida’s race for the U.S. Senate. Having once targeted the spot as prime takeover territory, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced it’s pulling resources out of the state.

And, no, it’s not in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew making landfall.

Instead, the decision concedes a tough reality for Democrats and, especially, their onetime takeover hopeful Patrick Murphy, the party-jumping, shape-shifting, résumé-padding, ambition-fueled Gold Coast congressman. Marco Rubio is poised to do to Jupiter’s Charlie Crist what he did to the original in 2010.


The pullout is doubly painful for Democrats.

So long as Rubio, the once-and-future Republican presidential candidate, kept to his vow about being a private citizen next January, our swing state was tantalizingly in play. If Florida flipped, the Senate majority would almost certainly tilt to Democrats.

Even after he reneged, constituting at least two public pledges broken in a matter of months — Rubio once said he’d go the distance no matter how the Florida primary went, but shuttered his campaign immediately after his home-state drubbing — Democrats were hopeful.

Once they emerged from the primary shed of the execrable Alan Grayson, they’d hoped to apply the negatives unearthed during the GOP preseason to end the vexing young-man-in-a-hurry once and for all.

Instead, having sighed, briefly, after Rubio agreed to pursue a second term, Republicans and other outside groups began pouring money into the state, fueling ads designed to make certain every Floridian knew what CBS Miami’s Jim DeFede had turned up in June: The foundation on which Murphy had fashioned his plunge into elected office was a sham.

GOP 2016 Rubio(9)

Salon’s reliably hilarious Heather Digby Parton tagged Murphy as “one of the worst possible candidates available in any state.”  Parton’s fundamental gripe is that Murphy is an unreliable Democrat. That is, the son of a Republican multi-millionaire represents his Republican-leaning district by voting too often with, well, Republicans.

That’s one way to look at it. Another is Murphy’s credentials are largely a figment of his imagination. Having been outspent, to date, by about 3-to-1, even voters predisposed to have soured on Rubio find Murphy an unacceptable alternative.

So it has come, apparently, to this: Not for the first time this election year we’re hearing that the frontrunner has obvious flaws, but that the chief challenger is not up to the task of arguing the brief.

The case against Rubio is obvious: He decided early on to use the Senate as a stepping stone; after his first high-profile legislative effort — comprehensive immigration reform — soured in the House, he renounced the deal (proving himself opportunistic and fickle); he groused about the tediousness of the job; he was largely absentee the last couple of years; and even now, when he has embraced with vigor the role of senator, he won’t commit to serving a full six-year term.

It’s this last, especially, that drives Murphy’s supporters bonkers. What they miss — or don’t miss, but are loath to concede — is that Rubio is a rare, possibly once-a-generation political talent. His story — the son of working-class Cuban immigrants who bootstrapped themselves and their offspring into full participation in the “American Dream” — and his oratory penetrate to the marrow every member of every audience willing to give him a listen.

There was the time at a GOP fundraising dinner in New Port Richey when, still relatively unknown, he delivered “The Speech” — his life story woven seamlessly into policy prescriptions — and even the waiters, clearing dishes, stopped dead in their tracks, hanging on every word. Clatter in the kitchen stilled as dishwashers popped their heads through swinging doors.

A year or so later, now running for Senate and addressing Hillsborough County Republicans gathered at the Embassy Suites on the campus of the University of South Florida, the scene repeated itself. Well-dressed diners and wait staff were equally enraptured.

That’s because Rubio doesn’t talk to enclaves of Americans, saying one thing to this group and something else to another. While others Balkanize the melting pot into a picked-over salad, he narrates conservatism in ways that make inspiring sense regardless of your ethnicity or tax bracket.

So he won’t commit to a full six years. Just now, the polls are saying, “So what?”

For Floridians once again leaning his way — and that appears to be a solid plurality, according to Mason-Dixon  — Rubio is the can’t-miss first-round draft pick you’re not sure you’ll be able to sign to a second contract.

As the start of early voting draws near, we’ve about decided a guaranteed four more years of a hall-of-fame political talent beats six years of the other guy.

Veteran journalist and center-right blogger Tom Jackson has worked for newspapers in Washington D.C., Sacramento, Calif., and Tampa, Fla., racking up state and national awards for writing, editing and design along the way. Tom also has been published in assorted sports magazines, and his work has been included in several annual “Best Sports Stories” collections. A University of Florida alumnus, St. Louis Cardinals fan and eager-if-haphazard golfer, Tom splits time between Tampa and Cashiers, N.C., with his wife, two children and a couple of yappy dogs.