- Associated Press - Saturday, January 23, 2016

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - The Florida Republican Senate primary is largely sounding like a group that’s trampling over each other to claim the title of being the non-Washington guy.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis says Washington hasn’t changed him, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera says Washington won’t change him, and businessman Todd Wilcox proudly proclaims that he’s the only person running whose never held a political position and says Washington can’t change him.

All three worked the Republican Party of Florida annual meeting on Friday hoping to build support among party leaders and activists. The only major Republican candidate who didn’t attend the meeting was the one with the longest Washington resume - former lobbyist and congressional aide and current Congressman David Jolly. They are seeking the seat Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is giving up to run for president.

In a year when billionaire Donald Trump is stunning political observers as the GOP presidential front-runner, Florida’s Senate candidates are also hoping to latch onto voter frustration with Washington.

“That’s encouraging, and it dovetails with what I’m saying to people,” Wilcox said about support for Trump before taking a shot at his opponents. “The hypocrisy from all of these career politicians is obvious to everybody.”

Among that group he included DeSantis, who was elected in 2012 as a tea party favorite in his first run for political office. DeSantis is seen as staying true to his conservative principles in his first three years in office and is backed by a number of conservative groups. But Lopez-Cantera also called him a Washington politician before making his own case as the candidate that won’t be changed by Washington.

“My record proves that I don’t make political or public service decisions based on what typical folks in Washington do, which is, ‘What’s going to get me past the next election or what’s best for my career?’” Lopez-Cantera said.

He points at his decision to run for Miami-Dade County property appraiser after serving eight years in the state House. He said it wasn’t a choice one makes to advance a political career.

“I did it because it was the right thing to do,” said Lopez-Cantera, who began his professional career in real estate. He also said his decision to run as Gov. Rick Scott’s lieutenant governor also wasn’t about political ambition.

“Some polls had him down 10 points. The conventional wisdom was he was not going to win. That’s when I said yes. Not when it was an easy thing,” he said.

DeSantis burst out laughing when told Wilcox said he was a career politician and Lopez-Cantera called him a Washington politician.

“Everyone runs in these races saying how conservative they are, how they’re going to change things but then people go up there it’s like they catch Potomac fever or drink the Kool-Aid,” DeSantis said. “I have a record of going up and doing what I said I would do, so people can have confidence that sending me to the Senate means whatever I tell them, the promises I make will be the promises I keep. Most people who go to Washington can’t come out and say that.”

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Follow Brendan Farrington on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bsfarrington

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