Marco Rubio just upended Florida’s big-money Senate race

Picture of Marco Rubio speaking with hand raised at podium.
Marco Rubio’s decision to run for Senate again has changed the race entirely. (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

As Sunlight has reported, the fight for control of the Senate is resulting in millions raised and spent across the political map. Now that former presidential candidate Marco Rubio has stated he will run for re-election to his Senate seat, we examined the big money in the Sunshine State’s suddenly high-profile Senate race.

Although Rubio previously stated he would not be running for re-election this year, there were signs that his tune was changing. He was quoted widely saying he is “rethinking” his decision in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting terrorist attack. Now that Rubio has decided to enter the Florida primary, he needs to make up ground; his former presidential campaign, Marco Rubio for President, has less than $24,000 on hand as of May 31.

But the Florida senator still has plenty of resources to tap into. The pro-Rubio super PAC Conservative Solutions, which still prominently featured Rubio on its homepage as recently as June 21, reportedly has $1.7 million in the bank as of May 31 that could be earmarked to support a Rubio Senate run.

In addition to those funds, Rubio might expect to receive institutional support from organizations including the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a 501(c)(6) nonprofit group.

Until Rubio’s recent remarks, the Senate Leadership Fund had not indicated that the Florida race was a priority. According to Politico, “Only Rubio’s entry would make it likely to spend on Florida’s Senate race.” Additionally, the National Republican Senatorial Committee “left Florida out of its initial ad buy.” In contrast, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pledged $10 million reserving Florida TV airtime, and the Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, plans to spend $10.5 million on Florida ads.

This leaves the ad spending by party committees and their flagship super PACs at $20.5 million in favor of the Democrats and at $0 for the Republicans at this time.

Real estate developer Carlos Beruff, dubbed the “biggest self-funder in the nation for any U.S. Senate seat this year” by the Miami Herald, has reportedly spent some $3 million of his own money in the Florida GOP Senate primary. Now that Rubio has jumped into the race, Beruff’s treasure chest will be instantly put to the test.

As the Florida race stands, Beruff is not the only self-funding candidate Rubio could outshadow in terms of dollars. When it looked as if Rubio was giving up his seat, the field for the GOP nomination became crowded. In addition to Beruff, there are three other candidates who are all currently engaged in a high-spending battle, including former CIA and military officer Todd Wilcox, who the Miami Herald says has spent over $1.5 million out of his own pocket. Both Beruff and Wilcox have invested heavily in TV spots running across Florida, where both candidates tout their credentials as political outsiders.

More than $4 million has been raised by Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis, who has the financial support of several conservative outside groups, including: the Senate Conservative Fund ($94,242); the Madison Project ($88,636); Freedomworks for America ($6,118); and Club for Growth Action ($1,080). He has received all but $2,306 of the $192,382 spent by outside groups in the race so far.

One candidate, Republican Florida Rep. David Jolly, is running a campaign against money in politics — at least against raising it. Jolly introduced The STOP Act, which would “prohibit individuals holding federal office from directly soliciting contributions to or on behalf of any political committee.” He pledged to abide by the intention of that act as he ran — unsuccessfully. Last Friday, Jolly dropped out of the race, acknowledging the speculation that “Marco is saying he is getting in.” Jolly will, instead, stand for re-election for his District 13 seat, citing “unfinished business.”

Rubio’s decision to jump back into the race has fundamentally changed the Senate election in Florida, possibly the makeup of the entire Senate — and altered the destination for a lot of campaign cash.