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Rubio's 2016 Choice Rife With Complications, Uncertainty

Rubio's 2016 Choice Rife With Complications, Uncertainty

By Scott Conroy - December 3, 2014

When it comes to some potential presidential aspirants (Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie come to mind) there is little doubt about whether they will decide to run.    

For these likely GOP contenders, it would take an unforeseen event or dramatic change of heart to keep them out of the 2016 campaign.  

But for others, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, not even their closest confidants can tell whether they will pull the trigger on a White House run next year.  

Rubio’s decision is especially difficult to determine, considering several complications he faces -- the first of which is that the first-term senator is up for re-election in 2016. 

In and of itself, that would not be a deal breaker, as there is a long tradition of politicians seeking national and legislative office simultaneously.

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, for example, was re-elected to his U.S. House seat in 2012 while also part of the losing Republican presidential ticket; in 2008, then Delaware Sen. Joe Biden ran to retain his seat the same year that he was elected vice president. 

Even a state law that bars him from running for both offices would not necessarily help Rubio make his decision.  

Paul, for instance, has for months been formulating a variety of contingency plans to circumvent a Kentucky law that would ostensibly prevent him from seeking the presidency and a second Senate term simultaneously.  

But Rubio, by contrast, has said repeatedly that he does not plan to look for ways to challenge the Florida statute that precludes federal candidates from appearing twice on the same ballot. In April, he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he thought it was “the right law.” 

“I think, by and large, when you choose to do something as big as [running for president], you’ve really got to be focused on that and not have an exit strategy,” he said. 

All signs point to the 43-year-old Rubio choosing one of three options he will have available in 2016: run for president, run for re-election, or quit politics and do something else. 

And as of now, people in Rubio’s orbit aren’t sure which way he’s leaning. 

“Ask me again in January,” one source close to Rubio told RCP, summing up the uncertainty. 

Rubio’s advisers acknowledge that the former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives has been frustrated the last four years by the U.S. Senate’s struggle to achieve even low-level functionality.  

Members of his own party stymied Rubio’s high-profile push for immigration reform last year, and the Senate’s glacial pace is not well suited for his energetic temperament.  

But with the impending change of leadership in the upper chamber, some people close to Rubio believe he is likely to see what he can help accomplish in a Republican-led Senate rather than risk an uphill battle for the presidency.  

Republican strategist Ana Navarro -- a longtime Floridian who is close to Rubio -- said that the state’s junior senator has done an “extraordinary job” since arriving in Washington in 2011, suggesting that he would thrive amid a GOP majority.  

“He's the clearest thinker and most articulate voice on foreign policy of the new generation of Republicans,” Navarro said. “As his friend, I will respect any decision he makes related to his future. As his constituent, I sure hope he does not close the door on Senate re-election. He is making a difference there.” 

In a presidential field that figures to be replete with charismatic and experienced candidates with executive experience, Rubio’s profile as a first-term lawmaker is a significant potential drawback.  

And though he has maintained a relatively high profile in Washington, the buzz that Rubio has generated the last few years has not resonated much outside of his home state.

According to the latest RealClearPolitics average of Iowa polls, Rubio sits in ninth place among a hypothetical Republican field in the nation’s first voting state, and his standing in national surveys isn’t much better.

Still, Rubio cannot be dismissed as a viable White House prospect.  

He is one of the GOP’s most effective communicators, and his relative youth and Hispanic background would be appealing assets for a party seeking to diversify its presidential ticket.  

And there is little doubt that Rubio has the ambition and drive to seek the nation’s highest office, if he determines he has a realistic shot of winning it.  

He has made some high-profile trips to the early voting states in recent months and has a campaign-ready book (one with the intentionally innocuous title of “American Dreams”) set for release on Jan. 13.  

Rubio’s aides are still planning the accompanying book tour, after which he is expected to announce his 2016 decision. 

Another complicating factor is the potential candidacy of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. 

Many Republican officials have assumed that Rubio will stay out of the 2016 race should Bush -- a political mentor whose donor base overlaps with Rubio’s -- decide to enter it.  

But Rubio has insisted that his decision will not be contingent on Bush’s, and the Florida senator’s team believes that there would be a viable path for the younger contender even if both men run.  

“It’s not that unusual to see people who have been allies in the past end up running for an office like that,” Rubio told Politico last year.

Despite his insistence that a fallback plan is not an option, there is a scenario in which Rubio could take a shot at the nomination and, if it doesn’t work out, revert back to a Senate run.  

Florida will hold its Senate primary on Aug. 30, 2016, and candidates will have until May of that year to place their names on the ballot.   

The Republican National Committee has already voted to compress the next presidential cycle with the aim of ensuring that the nomination has been sewn up by early May. Under that timeline, Rubio would still have time to enter the Senate race if he failed to become the GOP’s standard-bearer.  

But such a scenario would deprive Florida Republicans of the chance to rally early around a viable candidate in what would be an expensive and competitive Senate race. 

For now, at least, the question that Rubio faces about his future would seem to have only one answer.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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