MIAMI (AP) — Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is getting help from an unlikely quarter as he campaigns for re-election: the Democratic Party.
The party’s Senate committee this week abandoned Rubio’s Democratic rival, Rep. Patrick Murphy, yanking advertising off the expensive airwaves of the Sunshine State and sending the money to competitive races in smaller states where fundraising dollars go farther.
The decision leaves Murphy, who’s raised only about one-third as much as Rubio in recent months, largely on his own.
And it has prompted a round of second-guessing from Democrats who argue that Rubio is beatable, and that the party should not be helping him win a second term that could provide a perch for another presidential bid.
“When Rubio decides to run for president again in four years, there’s going to be a whole lot of regret about these decisions being made now,” said Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale.
The decampment by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee comes at a strange time, just as things are looking up for Murphy.
Senate polls in the state have tightened in recent weeks, and there are signs that Florida Republicans aren’t as enthusiastic to vote this year with Donald Trump as their presidential nominee. For example, Democrats are doing better than expected in mail-in ballots.
Murphy on Wednesday won the endorsement of the Miami Herald, which in the past has backed Rubio, and released a new ad with President Barack Obama speaking Spanish to urge Hispanics to the polls.
And with Trump dragging down Republican candidates across the country, some here see a potential path to victory not just for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but also for Murphy, a second-term congressman with low name recognition.
“Sen. Rubio is a fatally flawed candidate and apparently some of the major newspapers in Florida felt the same way,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic consultant in Washington and former aide to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. “I only hope the DSCC is going to reconsider and start pouring money into the race, because he’s beatable.”
A spokeswoman for the Senate Democratic committee, Sadie Weiner, declined to comment on the group’s spending decisions. She said Murphy “has done an outstanding job in this race,” adding: “We’ve been proud to endorse Patrick and help his campaign with targeted investments and we will continue that for the next three weeks.”
But the Democrats’ pull-back from Florida has angered some of the state’s top donors, who have been unsuccessfully pleading with New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is closely involved with DSCC decision-making, to rethink the call.
The Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC run by former aides to Reid and Schumer, also is spending only a fraction of what it had planned, erasing its remaining ad buy for Murphy.
Democrats with knowledge of the spending decisions argue it is prohibitively expensive to advertise in Florida. Advertising by outside groups costs some $3 million a week compared to $1.5 million a week in North Carolina, $1 million a week in Indiana and $750,000 a week in Missouri.
Those three states all have turned into viable pickup opportunities for Democrats more recently, prompting the moves to pull out of Florida and reinvest money there.
That argument hasn’t stopped other Democrats from complaining about the party’s decision to cede the field to Rubio, who lost the GOP presidential primary this year but pointedly refused during a debate this week to commit to serving out another six-year Senate term. Democrats need to net four seats to take back control of the Senate if they hang onto the White House.
Schale called the move to stop spending money to help Murphy “an antiseptic, cost-driven decision, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right decision.”
Thanks to the abandonment Murphy is now getting swamped on TV.
Rubio and his supporters have aired more than 22,000 commercials on local broadcast stations, more than twice as many as Murphy and his allies, Kantar Media’s political ad tracker shows.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has put up more than 10 times as many Florida ads as the DSCC, according to Kantar Media.
That’s a stunning turnabout from the DSCC’s initial plans. The committee reserved $10 million in TV advertising back in April, before Rubio got into the race. It ended up spending only an estimated $106,000 on a paltry 208 broadcast commercials to date, Kantar’s data shows.
Republicans aren’t taking any chances. Heavy advertising buys remain on the books, and outside groups are knocking on hundreds of thousands of voters’ doors across Florida.
Murphy is getting some help on the ground from the Clinton campaign, which just announced it is spending an additional $6 million on mail and digital advertising to get out the vote in Florida and six other states with competitive down-ballot races.
Priorities USA, a cash-rich super PAC backing Clinton, on Tuesday announced plans to help Democrats in close Senate races as Clinton’s team feels increasingly confident about her chances on Election Day.
So far, though, Priorities’ list of senators to help doesn’t include Murphy.
Werner reported from Washington.
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