The low point for Marco Rubio came on March 15 when he was trounced in the Republican presidential primary in Florida, his home state, by Donald Trump, 46 to 27 percent. At that point, it appeared Rubio would finish his Senate career at the end of the year and leave politics behind.
The opposite has happened. In fewer than six months, Rubio, 45, has pulled off a remarkable political recovery. It wasn't what he had intended to pursue. But politics sometimes works in unexpected ways. On Tuesday, Rubio won the GOP nomination for a second Senate term, defeating Carlos Beruff, 72 to 19 percent.
He still has a big step to go, and it's not an easy one. His Democratic opponent in the Senate race, Congressman Patrick Murphy, won his party's nomination even more impressively than Rubio won his. For Rubio, Beruff was a pushover. Murphy had a stronger primary foe, Congressman Alan Grayson, whom he crushed, 59 to 18 percent.
The Rubio-Murphy contest looks like a tossup. But Rubio has clear advantages. He has campaigned statewide in a general election and won, beating ex-governor Charlie Crist for the Senate in 2010. And he is a better speaker, more fluent on major issues, and a stronger presence than Murphy.
While Murphy, 33, beat Grayson handily, the primary brought to light a negative side. A Miami TV station reported his resume was exaggerated: it turns out he's not a certified accountant, at least not in Florida. And his claim that a company he founded had participated in the cleanup after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was untrue.
The Rubio recovery began in June when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged him to run for reelection. Republican were concerned after losing the seat because none of the GOP candidates had clicked with voters. A loss in Florida would all but doom Republican hopes of keeping control of the Senate.
Rubio was persuaded. Even Trump had said he should seek reelection. But when he announced he would indeed seek reelection, he looked like a bigfoot stepping on the Republicans, including two congressmen, already in the race. Yet it worked out. Only Beruff, a businessman little known across the state, stayed in.
The two U.S. representatives quickly returned to their House districts. Both Ron DeSantis and David Jolly won the primaries on Tuesday. For DeSantis, reelection to the House is all but assured. Not so for Jolly, whose reapportioned district leans Democratic.
Rubio's return to politics seems to have created fewer bad feelings than might have been expected. In a poll several weeks before the primary, he was viewed favorably by more than 70 percent of Republicans.
Shortly after Rubio announced, the Chamber of Commerce committed $2 million to TV ads attacking Murphy in the critical I-4 corridor across central Florida from Daytona through Orlando to Tampa. "Rubio is an exceptional candidate," said Scott Reed, the Chamber's political chief. "He just needed to get home and get to work. It helped jump start his campaign."
If Rubio wins in November, his stature as national Republican figure may be revived. It was bruised in the presidential race, most painfully when he was attacked by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in a New Hampshire debate. Christie mocked his candidacy for relying on a few rehearsed lines.
Now Rubio looks more formidable than his rivals in the presidential primaries. Ohio governor John Kasich wound up winning only one state, his own. Jeb Bush has probably run his last race. Christie is a Trump adviser. Texas senator Ted Cruz hurt himself with a convention speech in which he failed to endorse Trump. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker was an early dropout.
By resuming his political career, Rubio has put himself in the class of Republicans who might run for president in 2020. This assumes two things: that Rubio beats Murphy and that Donald Trump loses to Hillary Clinton. Both are more likely than not.
The Florida primaries also saw Debbie Wasserman Schultz, deposed recently as Democratic national chair, defeat Bernie Sanders-backed challenger Tim Canova, for the Democratic nomination to another House term. She was first elected in 2004. And Democrat Corrine Brown, indicted recently on 24 counts, lost her bid to run for reelection.
And in the Tallahassee district in north Florida, the favorite of Republican majority leader Kevin McCarthy won. McCarthy's political action committee has donated to the campaign of Neal Dunn, who beat Mary Thomas, 41 to 39 percent. Congressman Jim Jordan, the leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, campaigned for Thomas.