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Rubio is out — for “Real”

Rubio is out — for “Real”

What U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio might do next has been the subject of intense speculation in political circles ever since he dropped out of the Republican presidential primary fight in March. Rubio is a relatively young, telegenic Cuban-American in a party struggling with young and Hispanic voters. Few believe he’s run his last campaign.

But Rubio has said he won’t run for governor in 2018 and publicly ruled out re-election to the Senate when he launched his presidential bid last year. In the interim, a posse of Republicans has signed up to try to keep the seat in GOP hands, from Congressmen Ron DeSantis and David Jolly to Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera to businessmen Carlos Beruff and Todd Wilcox.

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The problem? Right now, the seat — and with it, possibly control of the entire Senate — seems to be at best a 50-50 prospect for the GOP. The five Republicans are still struggling with low name ID, and Democratic Congressmen Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson are at worst in statistical dead heats in hypothetical match-ups with the GOP candidates.

CNN suggested that Rubio was facing pressure to run for re-election, a fire he tried to put out Thursday in (among other forums) a conversation with home-state media. Rubio said he has heard from colleagues and Florida activists “in the last day or so” who want him to re-up for six more years in the Senate. But Rubio repeatedly touched on his friendship with Lopez-Cantera to suggest that he wasn’t about to elbow his way back into the race.

“I think he’s a great candidate,” Rubio said. “I think he’ll make a great senator.”

And while Rubio wasn’t yet willing to formally say that he was endorsing Lopez-Cantera, he left little doubt that he would eventually do so, likely in “a few weeks.”

“We’re going to do these things at the appropriate time in conjunction with him. … I don’t think there’s any mystery about my feelings about him and about his candidacy,” Rubio said.

The refusal to run wasn’t quite as strong as Gen. William Sherman’s promise not to run if nominated for the presidency and not to serve if elected. Rubio didn’t slam the door shut on the possibility of running if Lopez-Cantera were to drop out. The senator simply said he didn’t answer hypothetical questions and that reporters shouldn’t attach any significance to that.

As for a recent burst of activity on issues critical to Florida, Rubio insisted he’s simply doing his job. When he was running for president, Rubio was often criticized by opponents for having one of the worst voting rates in the Senate — something he explained at the time by pointing out that he had a campaign to run.

In fact, Rubio tried (somewhat in vain) to focus at least some of Thursday’s conversation on Florida-related issues: addressing the Zika virus, citrus greening, a troubled housing project in Jacksonville, measures to help Puerto Rico, questions about benefits for Cuban immigrants.

“This is my job,” he said Thursday. “This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

And there are some Republicans who would like to see him do it a bit longer.

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Jim Turner and Brandon Larrabee / News Service of Florida

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