The battle over who will succeed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican running for president, already is turning nasty, even though the primary in the state isn’t until August 2016.
When U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, a conservative Republican, announced Wednesday that he is running for the seat, his supporters lauded the move and immediately questioned if an expected major GOP rival in the election, Rubio’s friend, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, is more “establishment” than tea party.

Senate Conservatives Fund leader Ken Cuccinelli, who previously has said that he hoped DeSantis would run for Rubio’s seat, recently attacked Lopez-Cantera’s votes during his tenure in the Florida legislature.

“Carlos Lopez-Cantera is not a conservative,” Cuccinelli, the conservative former Virginia attorney general, was quoted as saying in The Palm Beach Post. “He supported [former Florida Governor] Charlie Crist's budget that raised taxes by $2.2 billion, he supported in-state tuition for illegal aliens, and he’s supported wasteful spending at the state level. If he runs, we will actively oppose his nomination.”

Those kinds of comments sting some Republicans.

“Many conservatives, many in the Senate are just not happy DeSantis has done this,” Politico quoted an unnamed top-level GOP insider as saying. “There are some people who are ready to give dollar-for-dollar to make sure any advantage DeSantis gets from these groups will be wiped out.”

DeSantis is the first major Republican to announce plans to run for Rubio's seat. He will begin the campaign with more than $1 million raised from his 2014 re-election campaign to the House.

Lopez-Cantera has yet to officially announce that he is running, and plenty of others are expected to toss their hats into the ring, including Reps. Jeff Miller, David Jolly, former state Attorney General Bill McCollum and state Sen. Don Gaetz, Politico reports.

One Lopez-Cantrera backer, Miami billionaire and former Philadelphia Eagles owner, Norman Braman, balked at the verbal shots critics have taken at the lieutenant governor’s votes when he was a state legislator.

“It’s complete nonsense what they’re saying,” Politico quoted him as saying. “What the Legislature did during that period was heroic, considering all of the problems Florida faced as one of the hardest-hit states in the recession when we had high foreclosures and job losses.”

“It’s not the Club for Growth or Senate Conservatives Fund that will ultimately decide this election — but the voters of Florida,” Braman said. “And I’ll defer to the voters rather than leave that to these D.C.-based groups to make that decision.”

Democratic candidates who enter the race are not expected to be exactly warm and fuzzy to each other either.

So far, the ones considered likeliest to run are two U.S. congressmen, centrist Patrick Murphy and liberal Alan Grayson.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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