Despite a grueling presidential primary season and anger from many Floridians about his lack of time spent on Capitol Hill, Sen. Marco Rubio won re-election on Tuesday night, handily defeating Democratic challenger Rep. Patrick Murphy.
In fact, Rubio, 45, was outperforming his presidential campaign nemesis, Donald Trump – who had a slight 49 to 48 percent lead over Democrat Hillary Clinton with 91 percent of the Florida precincts reporting. Rubio, by contrast, had a comfortable 52 to 44 lead over Murphy.
In March of this year, Trump prompted Rubio to drop out of the presidential campaign by winning the GOP primary in the senator's home state.
In his victory speech, Rubio referred to his primary defeat, saying, “This is a lot better than the last time I did one of these in Miami.”
He said, "I want to thank the people of this extraordinary state that gave me another opportunity to serve them in the U.S. Senate … Florida is America, and its such an honor to be able to represent this extraordinary state.”
Rubio also ventured into Spanish during his speech, acknowledging the Puerto Ricans who have flocked to the I-4 corridor in the state. “I want to thank the Boricua community for voting for me. Puerto Rico is here today,” he said in Spanish. “I want to also thank the Venezuelan community and the Colombians as well. My wife and children are part of that community. And of course the Cuban community or course.”
One of the strongest arguments Murphy made during his underdog campaign to defeat Rubio was his tentative endorsement of the billionaire TV reality star during the Republican National Convention. At rallies, in interviews and most notably during debates, Murphy repeatedly made the Rubio-Trump connection.
"When Donald Trump goes low, Marco Rubio is right there with him," Murphy said to cheers at a recent Clinton rally. "Marco Rubio claims he's going to stand up to Donald Trump if he's elected to president. Really? Really? How exactly is Marco Rubio going to do that if he can't even stand up to him as a candidate? Donald Trump boasts about sexual assault, and Marco Rubio looks the other way."
There were stark differences between Rubio and Murphy on guns, health care, foreign policy, economic issues and abortion.
Rubio, 45, instantly became the frontrunner in the race when he decided to seek a second term after dropping out of the presidential race. His change of mind made a more difficult path for Murphy, 33, who was still relatively unknown despite announcing his candidacy more than a year before.
Murphy even loaned his campaign $1 million late in the race for television ads, money that was needed after the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Senate Majority PAC pulled money and support from his campaign, moves that upset some Florida Democrats who believed Murphy was closing the gap with Rubio.
Thanks to Rubio's name recognition and money advantage, he had pulled ahead of Murphy in recent polls.
Murphy is a two-term congressman who was attacked for embellishing his resumé. He said that his work as a certified public accountant and his time as a small business owner were an asset that would help him in D.C. But while he worked for an accounting firm in Florida, he wasn't a licensed CPA in the state, and his environmental cleanup business was set up by his wealthy father.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.