- Associated Press - Saturday, May 16, 2015

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Chances are good that U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis will have a primary opponent as he seeks Marco Rubio’s Senate seat, and four people also considering a run were at the Republican Party of Florida’s quarterly meeting Saturday gauging interest for possible campaigns.

Several people are eyeing the open seat created by Rubio’s decision to run for the Republican presidential nomination, from U.S. Rep. David Jolly, who has yet to serve a full term in the House, to former Attorney General Bill McCollum, who has run for Senate twice and served 20 years in Congress.

Also at the party meeting were Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who has already set up a political committee to raise money as he considers a run, and U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, an eight-term congressman from Pensacola.

“I don’t know what their future plans are, but I do know that they … chose to be at the RPOF quarterly,” said state party Chairman Blaise Ingoglia.

The meeting is one-stop shopping for candidates to be seen by and talk to the party’s top activists from around the state. Lopez-Cantera said he used the two-day meeting to talk to grassroots supporters and potential donors about a possible campaign.

“Florida is not a state where you can make this decision quickly,” said Lopez-Cantera, who added his experience working with Gov. Rick Scott will benefit him if he runs. “One of the things that’s motivating me to consider this is we have a playbook that’s proven to work here in Florida and maybe there should be a voice on that playbook in DC.”

So far DeSantis is the only announced candidate. He was expected to attend the meeting but campaign adviser Barney Keller said the congressman had a family emergency.

Miller, who hasn’t attended a party quarterly meeting in more than three years, hosted a reception Friday night for activists. He also recently met with Republican groups in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, far from his district in the western Panhandle.

“The decision is huge, and I’m trying to figure out if I have a message with the citizens of Florida,” said Miller. “I have a proven record of working not only within our own party, but across the aisle.”

He and Jolly addressed activists at a breakfast with McCollum and Lopez-Cantera in the audience. While neither specifically addressed their own plans, both predicted a Senate primary.

“Primaries are a great thing,” Jolly said. “The Democratic Party is not the inclusive party. It is not the open party that the Republican Party is. The Democratic Party uses a machine in Washington, D.C., to decide who a local candidate is going to be and they run that candidate and they push everybody else out of the way.”

That was a reference to U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, the only prominent Democrat running for the Rubio seat. Party leaders in Washington and Tallahassee are coalescing behind him hoping he’ll have a clean shot at the nomination, though Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson is also considering a run.

McCollum ran for Senate in 2000 and 2004 and served as attorney general from 2007-2011. He ran for governor in 2010 and was defeated by Scott in the primary. He would have the strongest name recognition if he entered the race. He said he wants to wait to see how the field shapes up and how voters react to the other candidates.

“If they’re looking for a new fellow, then I’m certainly open to that,” he said.

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