The 'Rubio Effect:' Conservative Victory Among a Diversifying Electorate

Posted: Nov 17, 2016 10:25 AM

Interesting stuff from Politico, deep-diving into the numbers to contextualize the depth and breadth of Marco Rubio's dominant Senate win in Florida. The freshman Senator initially announced his intention to forgo a re-election bid in order to focus exclusively on seeking the GOP's presidential nomination, then bowed to intense pressure from the party to reverse course after dropping out of the 2016 sweepstakes.  When he changed his mind and threw his hat back into the Senate ring, I called his move a calculated political risk:

Democrats, meanwhile, have said they'll pull out all the stops to beat Rubio, whose political career they're eager to kill. If the Trump undertow does sink Rubio, his political future will be severely crippled, if not dead. He'll have sustained an embarrassing presidential primary blowout defeat in his home state, flip-flopped into running for Senate again, then lost that race, too. He'll have been rejected by Florida's Republican voters and overall electorate in consecutive races. I'm not sure even a guy as talented Marco Rubio could overcome that one-two punch. Conversely, if Rubio prevails, his star will regain its glimmer, and he'll once again secure a prominent perch within the "future of the party's" upper echelon. Let's be candid: If Rubio wants to run for president again -- which I gather he does -- that would be a much stronger position to occupy than, for example, trying to mount another bid as a one-term ex-Senator who finished third in a failed White House bid, before promptly leaving public life.

The gamble paid off. Not only did Rubio retain his seat -- helping the party hold the Senate -- his erstwhile primary rival also won the state en route to the presidency.  Rubio managed to score an eight-point victory, which is an impressive feat in such a closely-divided state.  (Relatedly, Sen. Rob Portman's 21-point Ohio romp was quite a sight to behold).  Some nuggets from Politico:

The election that was supposed to kill Marco Rubio’s political career only made him stronger. Florida’s junior senator almost had his political obituary written this spring after a humiliating home-state loss in the GOP presidential primary in which Donald Trump beat him in 66 of 67 counties. After reversing course and deciding to seek reelection, Rubio faced an energized opponent and the threat of about $21 million from Washington Democrats to extinguish the once-rising Republican star by handing him an unprecedented two statewide losses in a year. In terms of his 714,000, 7.7 percentage-point margin in the general election, Rubio won more than 6 times that of Trump in Florida. The billionaire businessman beat the former secretary of state by about 114,000 votes, or 1.2 percentage points. Rubio garnered almost 52 percent of the vote in the U.S. Senate race, while Trump earned a little more than 49 percent in the presidential race. In all, Rubio received almost 218,000 more votes than Trump.

Rubio’s spot on the ticket probably helped Republicans to such a degree in his Democratic home county of Miami-Dade that Democrats say there was a discernable “Rubio Effect” that helped many Republican state legislators survive in legislative districts that Clinton carried. For a modern-day Republican in a presidential election year, the bilingual Rubio won historic shares of support from Hispanics (48 percent) and African-Americans (17 percent), exit polls showed. He even carried a majority-black Jacksonville precinct. Rubio racked up more total votes than any other GOP senator in a truly contested race from any other state this year, partly due to the fact that Florida has more voters as the nation’s biggest swing state.

Rubio significantly outperforming Trump interests me to some extent, but the really key data points are contained in that second paragraph.  Florida's junior Senator carried nearly half of Hispanics statewide, losing that demographic to his Democratic challenger by just two points (by contrast, Clinton bested Trump with Florida Latinos by 27 points).  Yes, Rubio's tally was boosted by strong support among Cuban-Americans (68%), but in order to have basically split Hispanic voters, he also ran very respectably (38%) among non-Cubans, too.  Rubio also won 17 percent of black voters, including one-in-four black men.  The detail about his attention to a local issue helping him win a majority-black precinct in northern Florida underscores the point that meeting people where they live, and being attentive to their needs and concerns, is a nonpartisan path to success.  Overall, Rubio carried male voters by 13 points, and beat his opponent among women too, winning a slim but outright majority.  The young Senator ended up attracting the support of 45 percent of voters between the ages of 18-44, fueled by an eight-point win in the 25-29 bracket, and staying competitive with Democratic-trending thirty-somethings.  He also prevailed among independents (who made up a slim plurality of the overall Sunshine State electorate) by ten points.  

Donald Trump deserves tremendous credit for shattering Hillary Clinton's leaky 'blue firewall,' capturing a string of states that have eluded Republican tickets for decades.  He bucked conventional wisdom by outperforming Mitt Romney among African-Americans, and avoiding even worse catastrophic losses among Latinos.  That said, his 'Rust Belt' triumphs were overwhelmingly boosted by white working class voters.  Republicans ought to learn from Trump's example in that part of the country, and take some pointers from the Rob Portmans of the world, too.  But in regions where the population is diversifying (think Florida, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, etc.) the party will need a different model.  Rubio just demonstrated how to blaze that path.  I'll leave you with his victory speech from a week ago last night: