Sen. Marco Rubio is re-engaging in national politics more than a year after President Trump chased him from the 2016 contest, with carefully calibrated plans to assist Republicans running in the midterm and establish a home-state network that might fuel future ambitions.
The Florida Republican, reelected after exiting the presidential primary, has quietly beefed up Reclaim America, his political action committee, to use as a vehicle to raise money for 2018 candidates and fund his travel to stump for them locally, and provide other assistance.
Rubio, 46, is prioritizing Republicans who backed his presidential bid, including an October visit to Arizona to headline a fundraiser for vulnerable Sen. Jeff Flake, in Trump's crosshairs and facing the prospect of tough primary and general election challenges.
The senator also aims to build stronger alliances with Republicans in Florida, with long-term investments in local and state politics, which he neglected on his fast rise from the West Miami city commission to front-running presidential candidate.
The goal is to assemble the sort of committed following developed by former Gov. Jeb Bush at the height of his career, cementing his political standing at home and laying a foundation of financial and grassroots support that could prove valuable in a national setting.
"We were blessed during the presidential campaign to have an enthusiastic base of supporters, many of whom stuck their neck out for Marco even when the polling suggested they should do otherwise," Todd Harris, a senior Rubio political adviser, told the Washington Examiner.
"Beyond that, there are scores of candidates in 2018 who share Marco's conservative values and vision for the party, and he's going to do everything he can to help them as well, regardless of who they supported in 2016," he added.
Rubio in early 2016 was possibly one televised debate away from becoming the candidate to beat in the Republican presidential primary. But the senator never truly recovered from his implosion on stage in New Hampshire, clearing the way for Trump.
Rubio exited the race in March, after Trump pounded him in the Florida primary, expecting to serve out his first term and head to the private sector. He changed course a few months later and ran for reelection, easily defeating a primary challenger and then outperforming Trump, who won Florida, in a competitive general election.
Since campaigning for and winning reelection, the charismatic Republican, who spent much of his first term dominating the political conversation as he geared up to run for president, has kept the national spotlight at arm's lengthy and focused primarily on Florida.
Even today, Rubio is immersed in delivering relief from Hurricane Irma, which earlier this month lashed his state, and Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico a few weeks later. He has been in Washington only a few days since Irma made landfall on Sept. 10., spending his time in Florida and Puerto Rico.
But the senator has given his political operation the green light to prepare for 2018, work that actually began before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in August to kicking off a wave of destruction across the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. Rubio wants the GOP to be hopeful, optimistic, and forward looking, and he's hoping to nurture challengers and incumbents that fit that mold.
- In October, he's headed to Arizona to raise money for Flake and the state attorney general, Mark Brnovich.
- He's cut checks from Reclaim America, his leadership PAC, to Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who is running for Senate; as well as for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., and Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y.
- A fundraiser to benefit multiple Senate Republicans, with a focus on incumbents facing primary challenges, is to occur next year in Florida.
- He's signed emails for Mandel, Rep. Karen Handel, R-Ga., whose district he won in the 2016 primary; Virginia gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie; Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont.; and Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
- Plans are underway to aid Republicans he has endorsed who are running for state office in New Jersey: Carlos Rendo, the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor; and Illeana Schirmir, who is running for state Senate against an incumbent Democrat.
In Florida, Rubio plans to be active helping the state Republican Party and is already helping endorsed candidates in contested races, assisting with fundraising, providing access to his social media platforms and allowing his image to be used in mailers.
That's what Rubio did for state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the nominee in a competitive special election for an open state senate seat (Diaz lost). Rubio did the same for Daniel Perez, the Republican nominee for the state House seat Diaz vacated. Perez won a competitive primary and cruised in Tuesday's special general election.
The senator also is supporting state Rep. Mike Miller, a candidate in the contested Republican primary in the Seventh Congressional District, held by freshman Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy.