Since the 2020 general election, political pundits have begun to turn their attention to the 2022 midterm elections that will effectively decide whether or not the Democrats retain control of both the House and Senate.
For Florida, 2022 will be an especially important year as both the governorship and a senate seat — the one currently held by Marco Rubio, R-FL.,— will be up for grabs. While both positions will no doubt be heavily contested, Rubio is poised to be in a particularly unique position as his seat will help determine the outcome of the Senate.
After losing the Republican presidential primary to Donald Trump in 2016, Rubio decided to seek reelection to the Senate that same year, defeating his opponent Patrick Murphy (D) by a margin of nearly 700,000 votes.
Only a small number of Republicans are more detested by liberals than Rubio, due in large part to his last minute refusal to back a 2013 bipartisan immigration bill he helped draft as well as his support for Trump. However, following the recent insurrection on the capital and Rubio’s decision to certify the electoral results, many on the right have also jumped to criticize Rubio’s actions.
With vehement distaste for Rubio coming from the left and weakening support on the right, theoretically, Rubio should be easy to defeat in the 2022 midterms. However, at least currently, it appears that Rubio has a solid chance at reelection.
While a number of factors contribute to the strength of Rubio’s chances, perhaps the most significant of these factors concern geography. Florida, long considered a flip state, has trended increasingly red over recent years.
Withholding the Obama victories in 2008 and 2012, Florida has increasingly shifted to favor conservatives, even in counties that previously held liberal majorities. In fact, in the 2020 general election, Trump not only increased his margin of victory in 33 of the 55 counties he had won in 2016, but he also picked up massive gains in traditionally liberal counties as well. This most recent election marks the fourth consecutive election in which Republicans have won Florida in the top-ticketed race.
This not only bodes well for Rubio’s reelection in terms of voter support, but it also signifies that with shifting voter demographics, organizations aimed at maintaining the Senate’s Democratic majority may focus and funnel their efforts on more promising races such as those in North Carolina, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Furthering his geographical advantage in Florida, Rubio is Cuban and grew up in Miami-Dade County. While Democrats have a hold on Miami-Dade for now – Hillary Clinton won by a margin of 30 percentage points in 2016 and Joe Biden maintained a lead of seven percentage points in 2020 – that lead has continued to shrink over time. While Rubio himself lost Miami-Dade by 108,000 votes in 2016, Rubio’s Cuban heritage and home turf advantage do account for a significant boost on top of the already growing support from other Republicans in the area.
Rubio also holds the advantage of having significant name recognition, an extensive national profile, and the good fortune of being up for reelection the same year as Gov. Ron DeSantis. With the highest statewide seat and a vaccination distribution plan that has received extensive criticism, many high-profile Florida Democrats will likely be jockeying for the governorship rather than a more costly battle with Rubio.
Despite these advantages, Democrats remain hopeful that they can flip Rubio’s seat come November 2022. One group, the ‘Retire Rubio’ effort, is already strategizing how best to combat Rubio in the upcoming midterms.
Although no high-profile Democrats have committed to challenging Rubio, Democratic Party operatives are pushing for Orlando-area congresswomen Rep. Val Demings, D-Florida, or Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Florida. Both congresswomen reside in relatively safe districts and remain noncommittal concerning their future aspirations.
Despite the lack of commitment thus far, Murphy has reaffirmed her desire to help “lay the foundation for Democrats winning in 2022.” As a Vietnamese refugee, Murphy’s outspoken distaste for socialism, a concept frequently mischaracterized as a right-wing talking point, provides her a unique opportunity to appeal to voters right of center – voters Rubio needs.
No matter who ends up challenging Rubio in his search for reelection, the Democratic Party’s best chance at success may rely on a primary challenge against Rubio.
This is illuminative of a new trend wherein certain Republicans are vulnerable to competition not only from the left but from the right.
The biggest contender in a primary challenge may come from Ivanka Trump. Not only would Trump have the name recognition and resources to compete with Rubio, but she would also satisfy those on the right who are angry with Rubio for certifying the electoral college results.
Trump has remained noncommittal concerning her future political aspirations. However, she has allegedly informed Rubio that she has no plans to challenge him in 2022.
High-profile Republican primary contenders for Rubio’s seat have yet to emerge, though there is still plenty of time.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, a relatively new and rising figure in the Republican Party’s further right wing, has already stated he won’t challenge Rubio in the Florida 2022 primary.
In the quest for flipping Rubio’s Senate seat, the Democrats’ best chance will come if he faces a Republican primary challenge — and the further right, the better for Democrats, as statistics have shown Rubio is vulnerable to Trumpism.
Featured Image: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, speaking at a CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) in 2016. Unmodified photo by Gage Skidmore used under a Creative Commons license. (https://bit.ly/3tSGyHR)
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