Rubio's Re-Run May Be Harder Than The GOP Thinks – Especially After Orlando

Jun 22, 2016

COMMENTARY -

So it seems the Orlando massacre helped prod Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, like a guy leaping back onto a subway train as its doors are closing, to change his mind Wednesday and run for reelection.

Rubio said last week he was “deeply impacted” by the slaughter of 49 people at a gay nightclub – the U.S.’s worst mass shooting by a lone gunman. It caused him to consider “service to your country.”

But you’ve got to wonder if Rubio really considered the salient issues involved in the Orlando atrocity – among them Latinos, gun control, gay rights and domestic terrorism – and whether, as a result, he’s overestimating voter support for the Rubio Re-Run.

RELATED: Marco and Marxists: Political Dogma Keeps Puerto Ricans, Cubans Fleeing

Start with Latinos – a group we in the media regrettably ignored in Orlando, even though almost all the victims were Puerto Ricans, Central Florida’s largest Latino cohort today.

Latino voters may hold the fate of this election cycle. But presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump is polling just 11 percent with that bloc. Eleven. Percent.

That's a big reason, aside from the fear of losing another Florida Senate seat, that Republican leaders pushed Rubio to re-run: Conservative white men haven’t faced a rout by Latinos this devastating since Texans looked over the walls of the Alamo in 1836. So they want to keep Rubio around as their next-generation Latino liaison.

Here's a big reason Republican leaders pushed Rubio to re-run: Conservative white men haven't faced a rout by Latinos this devastating since Texans looked over the walls of the Alamo in 1836.

There are several monkey wrenches in that thinking. Rubio is Cuban-American. Cuban-Americans make up only 3 percent of all U.S. Latinos. And many non-Cuban Latinos resent Cuban-Americans for the immigration pass they get. Worse, Rubio essentially forfeited his standing with most non-Cuban Latinos by abandoning immigration reform.

The GOP also forgets that since Rubio was elected to the Senate in 2010, more Latinos in Florida have registered as Democrats than as Republicans. Even Latino independents now outnumber Latino Republicans here.

That’s due in no small part to the state’s influx of Puerto Rican voters – most of whom are irked at Rubio for turning his back on congressional bankruptcy relief for Puerto Rico as the island suffers one of the worst economic crises in its history.

Then there’s gun control, including the debate over whether to ban the sale of combat-carnage assault rifles like the AR-15 the Orlando shooter used.

recent Pew Research Center survey finds three-fourths of Latinos favor stricter gun measures. That figure is higher in Florida – where a new Public Policy Polling poll shows 83 percent of all voters support keeping anyone on the Terrorism Watch List from purchasing a gun.

Yet in the Senate this week, Rubio helped defeat a commonsense post-Orlando bill that would have barred suspected terrorists from buying firearms.

As for gay rights, Rubio opposed same-sex marriage legalization, but a majority of Latinos backed it – as did 75 percent of Florida voters, according to PPP.

HEARINGS HOOKY

Rubio’s even got big negatives on the issue he boasts about most – terrorism.

He’d like us to judge his Senate term largely on foreign policy prowess. But as a member of the Foreign Relations committee he's played hooky from almost two-thirds of the panel's hearings.

Lame job attendance of course didn’t stop him from slamming President Obama’s anti-terror efforts at every turn.

Puerto Ricans at a vigil in Orlando last week for victims of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub.
Credit Carlos Giusti / AP via Miami Herald

But if Obama’s record hasn’t always been stellar – e.g., his muddled Syria policy – he can take credit for wins like eliminating Osama bin Laden. Rubio is best known for hawking a good-and-evil world view – see his hostility to U.S.-Cuba normalization – whose expiration date was about 1986.

That helps explain why even Obama has a higher approval rating in GOP-controlled Florida than Rubio has. And why Obama’s favorability score is 65 percent among U.S. Latinos.

Since Trump annihilated Rubio in Florida's Republican presidential primary three months ago, Rubio has made a conspicuous show of how much he suddenly embraces his Senate work. Or of how much tragedies like Orlando make him contemplate service to one’s country.

By November it may well pay off. A new Quinnipiac University poll already shows Rubio running ahead of his likely but lesser known Democratic opponents. But he doesn't score a majority. He's got a lot of lost ground to recover with voters – especially the gun control-favoring, gay rights-backing, Obama-supporting Latinos whom Republicans think he speaks for.