What Marco Rubio's election win means for 'outsider' politics

Both major political parties have experienced internal turmoil. But at the local level, challengers need to do more than offer a 'lite' version of outsider presidential bids.

John Raoux/AP
Sen. Marco Rubio, (R) of Florida speaks to supporters at a primary election party in Kissimmee, Fla., on Aug. 30, 2016. Mr. Rubio easily won his primary challenge, getting 72 percent of the vote.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida won handily in a primary challenge for his senatorial seat on Tuesday night, appearing to restore a bit of his own political capital after losing badly in a bruising Republican presidential primary.

The senator faced a challenge from real estate developer Carlos Beruff, who hoped to capitalize on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s resounding victory in Florida and promised to serve as Mr. Trump’s “lieutenant,” according to CNN. But Senator Rubio, who ignored Mr. Beruff’s appeals to participate in a debate, took home 72 percent of the vote.

His easy victory came on a night when two other high-profile incumbents seen as representatives of Democratic and Republican establishments also prevailed without much trouble against challengers linked to the parties’ ideological bases. The results seem to underscore the appeal of particular outsider candidates – namely, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont and Donald Trump – while illustrating that it may be difficult for other candidates to replicate.

On Tuesday, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) of Florida fended off law and public-finance professor Tim Canova, whose campaign got a jolt from millions of dollars in contributions from supporters of Senator Sanders, according to NPR. Rep. Wasserman Schultz’s victory comes not long after she resigned as Democratic National Committee chairwoman following the release of leaked emails suggesting that she had favored Hillary Clinton – who lent her a hand in an August appearance at the representative’s campaign headquarters in Davie, Fla.

"I want to have her in the Congress by my side," Mrs. Clinton said then, according to the Sun Sentinel.

Given stiff odds in the weeks leading up to the primary, Mr. Canova had sounded dubious about how much of a lift Sanders had given him.

“It’s frustrating that the media doesn’t want to talk to me about [the issues], they want to talk to me about Bernie,” he told the Atlantic in late August, adding that Sanders’ support “helped mobilize the establishment” against him.

Another high-profile Republican senator, John McCain of Arizona, also survived a primary challenge from a Trump-styled insurgent, beating state senator and physician Kelli Ward by a comfortable 55 to 35 percentage points. That sets up what Mr. McCain expects to be “the race of [his] life” against his Democratic opponent, former representative Ann Kirkpatrick.

Both McCain and Rubio were eventually endorsed by Trump after weathering his attacks. At a recent speech in Daytona Beach, Fla., noted CNN, Trump urged the crowd to support Rubio, whom he frequently – and perhaps most successfully – mocked during the primaries.

"Go for Marco!" Trump said then.

After the results came back on Tuesday night, Rubio struck a humbled note in a speech to supporters.

“This has been an unusual road back here with you tonight. As you know, after my race ended in March for the presidency I was prepared to become a private citizen,” he said, according to The Guardian. “But I just couldn’t be at peace with the idea that we were going to not just potentially lose the Senate seat but lose the balance of power in the Senate at this critical moment in our nation’s history.”

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