By Hastings Wyman –
After the filing deadline in Florida passed last Friday, the biggest state race – in both parties – became the US Senate contest. On the Republican side, GOP senators and Washington operatives, conscious that if Hillary Clinton wins the White House, it would take only a four-seat Democratic gain to switch control of the Senate from the GOP to the Democrats, brought major pressure on incumbent Marco Rubio to run for reelection. Although Rubio had insisted since he quit his presidential campaign that he would not run for reelection to the Senate, GOP insiders were convinced that he would be the strongest candidate to keep the seat, and perhaps the Senate itself, in Republican hands.
But that does not mean that Rubio’s renomination in the August 30 primary is a done deal. Also running is Carlos Beruff, a wealthy developer who has already spent some $4 million dollars and has said he will spend another $15 million. And while Gov. Rick Scott (R) has not endorsed Beruff, he has made no secret of his friendship and admiration for him. Like Scott and Trump, Beruff is a wealthy outsider, enthusiastic about taking on the establishment. And, like Scott, Beruff is a Trump supporter.
Rubio got a plus and a minus on Friday when Todd Wilcox, a successful businessman, combat veteran and former CIA member, dropped his Senate bid. The minus was that Wilcox’s withdrawal leaves Rubio with one serious opponent in the Republican Primary, Beruff. With a broader field, Rubio’s chances of winning a plurality in the primary would have been improved.
On the plus side, however, Wilcox, who is highly regarded in Sunshine State Republican circles, endorsed Rubio. Other GOPers who dropped out of the Senate race to clear the way for Rubio were US Reps. David Jolly and Ron DeSantis, and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.
Although Beruff is personally wealthy, Rubio “will have no trouble getting money,” notes Dr. Susan MacManus, political science professor at the University of South Florida.
The two Democratic candidates, also competing in a heated primary, are US Reps. Allen Grayson and Patrick Murphy.
Murphy, 33, who has been endorsed by President Obama, may have been hurt by recent allegations of resume-padding. A report by CBSMiami found that, contrary to his campaign messages, Murphy had only one, not two, college degrees; earned his CPA in Colorado after taking the exam multiple times and has never worked as a CPA in Florida, where his license is not valid; and was apparently not the founder or owner of a small business, i.e., an environmental cleanup company which was a subsidiary of a company owned by his wealthy father. The Murphy campaign has issued a rebuttal to the charges, calling them “deeply false,” reported the Miami Herald.
Grayson, dubbed “the Donald Trump of the Democratic Party” by political analyst Barney Bishop, would probably be an easier target for the GOP in November. In addition to being a leftwing firebrand in a more or less moderate state, he is facing ethics charges involving managing a hedge fund while he is in Congress.
The most recent poll, by Quinnipiac University, showed Rubio defeating Grayson by 48% to 40% and defeating Murphy by 47% to 40%. But a Public Policy Poll (D) five days earlier showed Murphy ahead of Rubio by 42% to 41%, while Rubio led Grayson 42% to 40%.
In addition to the US Senate race, all 27 congressional seats in the state are being contested for the first time. “The GOP will lose one or two seats,” notes a longtime Republican operative, due mainly to redistricting.
The Florida legislature currently is divided 26R-14D in the Senate and 81R-39D in the House. With redistricting bolstering the Democrats, they have significant opportunities for gains in both chambers. In the upper chamber, 15 of 40 seats have no incumbent, another boost to Democrats.
While some observers doubt that, despite the massacre in Orlando, gun control will become an issue that could help Democrats, MacManus believes that the issue could resonate with some women voters. She also notes that Hispanic voters, turned off by Trump’s anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric, could present a problem for the GOP.
As for the extra-volatile presidential contest, which could affect the down-ballot races, one GOP professional calls it “a margin-of-error race, with an edge to Clinton.” Stay tuned.