- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Now that Donald Trump is the likely GOP presidential nominee, the five Republican Senate candidates hoping to share the ballot with him are expressing mixed feelings about the brash billionaire businessman and reality television star.

Florida’s open Senate seat is one of the keys to which party will control power over the chamber after this year’s election, and turnout in the presidential race will have an effect on the Senate race. But just how is anybody’s guess.

“How it’s going to affect the race? I don’t think I know, I don’t think you know, I don’t think anybody knows. It’s unprecedented for somebody to go from the private sector straight to president,” said U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis during a state Republican Party meeting last weekend. “When you add in somebody who has a celebrity status, too, I just think it’s going to be a very different campaign than what we’ve seen. People are just going to have to buckle their seatbelts.”

DeSantis said early in the campaign that he wasn’t going to endorse a presidential candidate and that he would support the nominee. His feeling now is that he will run his campaign, and Trump will run his own.

Congressman David Jolly said he can’t support Trump - at least not yet.

“I have not yet endorsed him because I still have serious reservations about policies to print money to pay off the debt, or to not pay off the debt, to bring back torture, to pull out of NATO, to target women and children,” Jolly said. “There are issues I have strong concerns with.”

He’s not ruling out eventually supporting Trump, but said he will wait to see how Trump’s campaign evolves between now and November. He said, though, he won’t vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

And that’s how Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera answered when asked if he’s supporting Trump, refusing to directly say he would vote for him.

“I won’t be voting for Hillary Clinton, that’s for sure,” he said. Asked again if he would vote for Trump, he replied: “We need to have a Republican president, so I’m definitely not going to vote for Hillary Clinton.”

Like DeSantis, he said he has no idea if Trump will help or hurt Republicans in November.

“All conventional wisdom has gone out the window as far as this election cycle,” he said. “I’m going to focus on my campaign and let him do what he’s going to do.”

While the three candidates who now hold elected office didn’t exactly exude excitement over Trump, the two who have never run for office - businessmen Carlos Beruff and Todd Wilcox - see Trump as a potential boost to their campaigns.

“There’s a movement under way across the nation and across Florida and it’s fueled by this notion that we’re fed up with these career politicians,” said Wilcox. “That’s in alignment with my message, that the heart of our problems and the reason we can’t solve a lot of these problems is career politicians.”

Similarly, Beruff said Trump’s success is a positive sign for his campaign.

“He’s bringing a lot of people that have not been engaged in the process. Democracy is a better place when more people are engaged,” Beruff said. “The American public is fed up with politics as usual in Washington, so of course it benefits me.”

The candidates are seeking the seat Republican Marco Rubio is leaving after his unsuccessful presidential campaign. Democrats seeking the seat include U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson.


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