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Lopez-Cantera Joins Scramble for U.S. Senate Seat

Lopez-Cantera Joins Scramble for U.S. Senate Seat

It's not as crowded as the pack of presidential candidates, but the lure of Florida's open U.S. Senate seat is attracting a burgeoning field of political heavyweights.

The latest entry is Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

In a YouTube video, a campaign rally in Miami-Dade County, and a round of news media interviews, Lopez-Cantera officially announced the candidacy that he's been unofficially running for weeks. He's going for the Republican nomination to succeed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is seeking their party's presidential nomination instead of running for re-election.

"I think we have enough Washington in Washington and I think maybe we need a little more Florida and this recipe that's worked for Florida in Washington," Lopez-Cantera said in an interview after he announced his intentions before about 150 supporters at a northwest Miami-Dade County manufacturer and wholesaler of containers.

Strains of Rubio — talk of family, hard work and success, and the American dream — were evident in Lopez-Cantera's comments Wednesday. "I am running for the U.S. Senate so that your kids and mine can continue to live in the kind of country that gave my family the blessings of liberty and freedom that only America offers," he said.

And his 10-minute speech, delivered partly in Spanish, also contained echoes of the campaign he ran last fall as Gov. Rick Scott's re-election running mate.

Lopez-Cantera touted the state's transformation from the depths of the Great Recession, saying lost jobs have turned to job gains, unemployment has declined, and state budget shortfalls have turned into surpluses.

He described himself as a fighter for Floridians and a leader who has derived pleasure in cutting taxes, reducing the size of government, improving education and balancing the budget. He said his career has been marked by a recognition that "the money that government spends is your money, not government's, and you know how to spend it better. Now that doesn't sound like Washington, D.C., does it? But that's why I'm running," he told the crowd.

Lopez-Cantera said he'd stand for a United States "that is respected in the world again," promised to work to end repression in Cuba and Venezuela, "and to reinvigorate our important bond with our greatest ally, the nation of Israel."

Rubio's seat is a toss-up that could be won by either party, national independent Senate analysts say.

Lopez-Cantera, 41, is a formidable candidate, but not big enough to scare others from running. He faces competition from three Republican congressmen who have announced or are expected to run, and a wealthy Orlando business entrepreneur. On the Democratic side, two congressmen are running for the open Senate seat.

All the candidates face a challenge that bedevils most people seeking statewide office in Florida and deters many from running.

The state is so big that even candidates who are well known in an important region like South Florida or Tampa Bay are usually virtual unknowns outside their home territory. Getting introduced to 4.2 million registered Republicans requires lots of money to advertise in the state's 10 media markets.

Lopez-Cantera started tackling that problem before he entered the race. In the five weeks leading up to his announcement, his Reform Washington political action committees raised $881,000.

Mike Rump, president of the Republican Business Network in northwest Broward, one of the county's biggest political clubs, said he thinks the lieutenant governor is the best-known candidate among Republican activists. Unlike the others, Lopez-Cantera campaigned across the state last year for Scott. He's also won office in Miami-Dade, the state's largest county.

"None of them have high profiles, so that's what's going to be interesting. They're going to have to claw for every vote," said former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, a Palm Beach County Republican who sought the 2004 U.S. Senate nomination before dropping out and running for re-election to the House. "It's going to be a dog-eat-dog primary as they try to slug it out."

The prospect of Republicans turning on one another troubles Rump. "If the Republicans beat each other up to the point where the last man we have standing is battered and bruised and limping across the finish line, then I don't think that is a good situation."

But, he said, if that doesn't happen, the competition of a clean, healthy primary will help the winner. "Whoever comes out on top, it will strengthen him."

Attacks started rolling out before Lopez-Cantera finished his formal announcement. The Senate Conservatives Fund, labeled him a big government liberal who has supported tax increases and is "out of touch with Florida values." The conservatives fund has endorsed one of the other Republicans, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who is a favorite of the tea party movement.

State Democratic Chairwoman Allison Tant called Lopez-Cantera a "professional Tallahassee politician" who has "built his career on lining the pockets of wealthy special interests and pandering to the most extreme fringe of the Republican Party — all at the expense of Florida's middle class."

What Tant described as a career in Tallahassee includes eight years in the state House of Representatives, where Lopez-Cantera rose to the post of majority party leader, and 17 months as Gov. Rick Scott's lieutenant governor. Lopez-Cantera also served briefly as Miami-Dade County's elected property appraiser.

Lopez-Cantera rejected the suggestion that he should take the unusual step of resigning as lieutenant governor because he's running for U.S. Senate. "I think that discussion is taking place a lot in the headquarters of the Florida Democratic Party, and I think they have focused their attacks on me because they think that I'm the type of candidate that can actually win," he said. "I've never been a quitter."

And he said he has no intention of distancing himself from Scott, who picked him as lieutenant governor last year. "Governor Scott's my friend. I enjoy working with him. He's done a great job for Florida's families. And I have no issue and no intention of separating myself" from his administration.

Who's in, out and maybe for U.S. Senate

Republicans in: Carlos Lopez-Cantera, lieutenant governor from Miami; Ron DeSantis, congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach; entrepreneur Todd Wilcox, of Orlando.

Republicans expected to run: David Jolly, congressman from Indian Shores on the Gulf Coast; Jeff Miller, Republican congressman from Chumuckla in the Panhandle.

Republican who might run: Bill McCollum, former Republican attorney general.

Republicans out: Jeff Atwater, chief financial officer; Pam Bondi, state attorney general; Vern Buchanan, congressman from southwest Florida; George LeMieux, former Republican senator from Lighthouse Point; Tom Rooney, congressman from Okeechobee; Will Weatherford, former state House speaker.

Democrats in: Alan Grayson, congressman from Orlando; Patrick Murphy, congressman who represents northern Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties.

Democrats out: Ted Deutch, Democratic congressman from Broward and Palm Beach counties; Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor turned Democrat and unsuccessful 2014 candidate for his old job; Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic congresswoman from Weston and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

Full Publication: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/politics/fl-senate-republicans-lopez-cantera-20150715-story.html