No surprise: Rubio returning to Senate

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BY JEREMY WALLACE
KRISTEN M. CLARK
AND DAVID OVALLE
MIAMI HERALD/TNS

MIAMI – Republican Marco Rubio is headed back to the U.S. Senate with his prospects of another run for president intact.

Republican U.S Senator Marco Rubio speaks, flanked by his family, as he celebrates his victory against Democrat U.S. Rep. Patrick E. Murphy at the Hilton Miami Airport Hotel on Tuesday.(PEDRO PORTAL/MIAMI HERALD/TNS)
Republican U.S Senator Marco Rubio speaks, flanked by his family, as he celebrates his victory against Democrat U.S. Rep. Patrick E. Murphy at the Hilton Miami Airport Hotel on Tuesday.
(PEDRO PORTAL/MIAMI HERALD/TNS)

Rubio defeated two-term Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, who couldn’t overcome poor name recognition or questions about embellishments on his resume.

Tuesday’s outcome was not a surprise given that Rubio never trailed in 47 consecutive public polls of the race since he entered into the contest in June. Yet, since Rubio emphatically said six months ago that he would not run for re-election, the outcome was still improbable.

“I have only said like 10,000 times I will be a private citizen in January,” Rubio posted on social media in May.

Overmatched Murphy
That pronouncement came after Rubio was trounced in the Florida Republican presidential primary, when he lost all counties but one, Miami-Dade, to Donald Trump.

Still, Rubio was seen as a lifeboat for national Republicans who became increasingly concerned that they would lose the seat and their majority in the Senate. Rubio easily won the Republican primary against candidates who didn’t have his renown or fundraising abilities.

From the start, Rubio overmatched Murphy by campaigning as the more accomplished legislator.

Murphy, 33, is finishing only his second term in Congress and would be six years younger than the next youngest member of the Senate had he won. No legislation by Murphy has ever passed the House, a point that Rubio was quick to remind voters during the campaign.

On presidential run
Rubio stressed his work on the Everglades, foreign policy, efforts to fight human trafficking globally and pressure he’s brought on slumlords around the state — all evidence to blunt criticism from Democrats that he had been AWOL.

Beyond giving Rubio a new six-year term in the Senate, the win keeps the Miami Republican in the conversation for another White House run. During the campaign Rubio continually hedged on questions about whether he’d run for president again, never completely ruling it out.

During the first debate with Murphy, Rubio said he intended to serve all six years in the Senate if he won. But he added, “God willing,” an important caveat that could allow Rubio to test out his stock in Iowa and New Hampshire over next three years.

Successful attack ads
Murphy used that hedging as part of an overall general election strategy to relentlessly remind Floridians of Rubio’s well-known flaws — his poor attendance record, his unabashed political ambition — but Murphy’s message never dented Rubio’s re-election prospects.

Meanwhile, Murphy perpetually deflected or outright denied any of his own flaws, such as well-documented lies about his academic and professional credentials that plagued him since they were uncovered during the summer primary season.

Democratic advisers leading get-out-the-vote efforts recently conceded Republicans won the high ground through a barrage of successful attack ads that highlighted Murphy’s resume misstatements, which defined him for undecided voters before Murphy could introduce himself.

Rubio and Republican forces supporting his re-election vastly outspent Murphy, who had been all but abandoned earlier this fall when national Democrats turned their investments to brighter prospects who could help them win back the Senate.

Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.

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