POLITICS

Rubio's would-be opponent in the Florida Senate race says he's ready for the fight

Sen. Rubio after paying his respects to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, June 16, 2016.

Sen. Rubio after paying his respects to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, June 16, 2016.  (ap)

While a pair of top Republicans running for U.S. Senate in Florida are willing to step aside for Marco Rubio to run for reelection, fellow Cuban-American and home builder Carlos Beruff is gearing up for a big battle should the incumbent decide to jump back in the race.

Early Friday morning, Beruff’s top advisor Curt Anderson sent a memo to supporters telling them the first-time candidate has no intention of dropping out of the race regardless of what Rubio ultimately decides before next week’s deadline.

U.S. Rep. David Jolly and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a Rubio confidante, both said they would step aside if the senator runs for reelection. In fact, Lopez-Cantera encouraged Rubio to run again earlier this week. The lieutenant governor has been Beruff’s most vocal critic.

Jolly announced Friday that he will end his campaign. 

Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) is ending his campaign for the Senate amid growing certainty that the incumbent, Marco Rubio, will reverse course and run for reelection.

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Jolly is expected to make a formal announcement later on Friday. 

The Hill quoted him as saying earlier this week of Rubio: "I think ultimately he decides to get in. Clearly the orchestration by Republican leadership on the other side of the aisle has shown their hand as well, and I think ultimately he accepts their recruiting effort to get back in."

In his memo, Beruff’s advisor also criticized Rubio for using Sunday’s deadly mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, as a reason for possibly changing course and run for reelection.

"Democrats have already accused Rubio of using this horrific act of terror in Orlando as a justification for furthering his political career," Anderson wrote. "This is a very damaging charge, and Senator Rubio has already indicated that the terrorist act is the reason he is rethinking."

With $4 million of his own money invested in the race, Beruff had emerged as the leading contender in the Republican primary, with polls showing him either tied for first place or leading the 12-candidate GOP field. However, a recent Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey found that 49 percent of voters said Rubio should run for reelection to the U.S. Senate, while 39 percent said he shouldn't. The numbers are even higher among Republicans, with 77 percent favoring a Rubio reelection bid. Forty-eight percent of Independents would also like Rubio to run again, while 62 percent of Democrats oppose his reelection.

Beruff has shown that he is not afraid of taking on Rubio, who won in 2010 as a Tea Party darling. His platform includes a lifetime ban for congressmen and senators becoming lobbyists, repealing automatic pay increases for members of Congress, and docking congresspeople’s pay if they don’t show up for votes — a proposal obviously aimed at Rubio, who has one of the worst attendance records on Capitol Hill.

“People should not be paid to go to Washington and not do their job,” Beruff told Fox News Latino in a recent interview. “When they don’t show up, why should we pay them?”

Nevertheless, GOP leaders and strategists have been lobbying Rubio to jump back in because they believe he has the best shot at helping Republicans hold on to the seat. The senator has until the June 24 filing deadline to make up his mind, but he’s told several media outlets he plans to make a decision over the weekend.

In recent weeks, Lopez-Cantera had intensified attacks Beruff. In a June 8 memo circulated to Florida media outlets, Lopez-Cantera campaign spokeswoman Courtney Alexander called Beruff for skipping out on a candidate forum in Palm Beach County that her boss and the three other candidates — Jolly, Ron DeSantis and Todd Wilcox.”

“Just last week, Carlos Beruff dodged Florida voters by canceling yet another public appearance with Carlos Lopez-Cantera and other candidates at the first Republican Senate forum, thinking he could get away with avoiding Floridians,” she said in the memo.

“Beruff is truly mastering the five D’s of political dodgeball every time he continues to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and again, dodge the voters. It’s as if Beruff is fronting his own dodgeball team.”

Lopez-Cantera had reason for zeroing on Beruff with the primary election less than three months away. Despite being Gov. Rick Scott’s second-in-command and his past success winning a countywide race for Miami-Dade Property Appraiser, Lopez-Cantera lags behind in the polls. The Mason-Dixon survey shows the lieutenant governor at 9 percent, just seven points better than defense contractor Todd Wilcox. Meanwhile, Beruff leads the GOP field with 17 percent, although the Mason-Dixon poll also found that 49 percent of the 400 Republican voters polled remain undecided.

Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, told Fox News Latino that Beruff emerged from nowhere by investing more than $4 million in ads introducing himself to voters as a political outsider whose business acumen makes him the better choice — a recipe that helped propel Scott to the governor’s mansion in 2010 and made Donald Trump the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. Beruff has also hired a number of Scott’s campaign consultants.

“At this stage Mr. Beruff is polling roughly as well as the other four GOP candidates," Peter Brown said. “For him, that is a compliment given that he has not been involved in politics until recently. He’s gone from unknown to being known enough to be in the same position as other candidates who have extensive political careers. It shows how powerful money can be.”

He’s also got a backstory that resonates with conservative voters, especially diehard Cuban- American Republicans in the Lopez-Cantera stronghold of Miami-Dade County. Beruff’s mother was a revolutionary who in 1957 escaped to Miami following a failed attack on Fulgencio Batista’s presidential palace. A year later she gave birth to Beruff at Jackson Memorial Hospital. In 1959, shortly after Fidel Castro assumed control of Cuba, the family returned to the island.

“They went back with the hope that Fidel was going to be a good leader for Cuba and bring about real freedom,” Beruff recalled. “It soon became evident that he wasn’t going to do that and they fled again.”

After his mother remarried Carlos Tepedino, a Coral Gables jeweler who worked with the CIA, in 1970, Beruff and his parents moved to Queens, New York when he was 12. The family returned to Florida in 1973, settling in Sarasota, a city on the gulf coast just south of Tampa.

After a brief career as a jewelry salesman, Beruff took a job selling houses for a local development company. “Four years later, I started my own company at age 26,” Beruff said.

Today, his company, Medallion Homes, is one of the state’s largest home builders and Beruff is one of Florida’s biggest rainmakers. According to the Miami Herald, Beruff made more than $1 million in campaign contributions since 2001. He’s also been appointed to the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport Authority and the State College of Florida board of trustees.

“I got appointed to these boards because I am a business person with common sense,” Beruff said. “I learned why you don’t need politicians to fix the problems we got.”

Francisco Alvarado is a freelance journalist in South Florida.

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