In what was clearly Sen. Marco Rubio’s strongest statement so far on what he intends to do in 2016, the Florida Republican told Newsmax Wednesday that he would either run for president or seek a second term in the Senate but not do both.
Without mentioning the name of fellow GOP Sen. and potential presidential hopeful Rand Paul—whose supporters are seeking to change Kentucky law to permit him to run for re-election next year as well as president – Rubio, 43, made clear he was taking a vastly different course. (Kentucky’s Democratic-controlled state House of Representatives has so far thwarted the efforts of Paul backers to change state election law).
Rubio’s plan of "President-or-Senate-but-not-both" in '16 has precedent. In 1964, Sen. Barry Goldwater turned aside suggestions of Republican legislators in Arizona to change the law to allow him to run for both offices and relinquished his seat to make his historic run for the presidency.
"If I make that decision [to run for president], it will not be with the intention of looking for a ‘Plan B if it doesn’t work out," Rubio told Newsmax, "My plan is not to run for president and, if I don’t succeed, then to qualify for the Senate. That is not my intention at all.
"My intention is if I run for president, to run for president."
The Florida lawmaker’s response came during a press breakfast in Washington, D.C. hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
When we reminded Rubio that the filing deadline for the U.S. Senate in Florida is May 6, 2016, he replied: "That’s when I imagine we’ll have multiple Republicans running for the [Senate] nomination and seeking it on their own."
When another reporter asked if he favored any of the other Republican prospects for his seat should he relinquish it, Rubio replied that "I haven’t given it much thought." The name most frequently mentioned for the Republican Senate nomination should Rubio step aside is that of two-term State Attorney General Pam Bondi. However, there are several other GOP prospects, among them Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and state House Speaker Will Weatherford.
Last summer, a Public Policy Polling survey among likely Florida voters showed Rubio defeating Rep. and Democratic National Chairman Debbie Wasserman Shultz by a margin of 48 percent to 40 percent statewide. The senator said that he expected a strong Democratic campaign to win his seat because Florida is "competitive, a swing state."
The first time someone sought both national office and a U.S. Senate seat at once was in 1960, when the Texas legislature changed state election law permitting then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson to run for re-election and be on a national ticket. In November of that year, Johnson was elected vice president on John F. Kennedy’s ticket and won his seat by a smaller-than-usual margin of 59 per cent to 41 per cent (over Republican John Tower, who later won the seat in a special election).
Since then, three other Democratic senators have been vice presidential nominees while running for re-election: Lloyd Bentsen of Texas in 1988, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut in 2000, and Joe Biden of Delaware in 2008.
No Republican senator on a national ticket has sought re-election simultaneously. Although Goldwater’s backers wanted him to do this in 1964, the senator did not do so because "he had severely criticized Lyndon Johnson, who in 1960 had been a candidate for re-election to the U.S. Senate while at the same time running with Kennedy for the office of vice president," wrote Goldwater’s close political associate Steve Shadegg.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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