Rubio’s late entry creates down-ticket traffic jam

by | Jun 29, 2016

Despite much speculation, and a series of courtesy calls to each candidate from Sen. Marco Rubio, the news that he planned to defend his old seat still came as a bit of a shock to Republican candidates across the state.

One week after Rubio’s announcement, the fallout is substantial: four of the five Republican Senate candidates have exited stage right: businessman Todd Wilcox and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera have suspended their campaigns altogether, while Rep. David Jolly and fellow Rep. Ron DeSantis have both converted their campaigns to defend their incumbencies in the House of Representatives.

For Jolly, whose cash on hand as of July dwarfed that of his only competitor, former Blue Angel pilot Mark Bircher, the conversion was straightforward. He made the announcement two weeks ago under the slogan “Unfinished Business.” But even with that much lead time, shifting gears from the Senate to a House campaign is no small task. In addition to filing the required paperwork, there’s a lot of loose ends that have to be tied up, including campaign staff that has to be released or retasked, donors that must be contacted, websites scrubbed or retooled altogether, campaign literature re-printed, and issues that need a second look so that the candidate remains in touch with the constituents of a much more localized area.

In the 6th Congressional District, the story was a bit different for DeSantis. His domino-effect late entry into the House race created problems for fellow Republicans Dr. Fred Costello and G.G. Galloway, both of whom were set on facing off against one another. Despite a Death Star-sized advantage in cash on hand for DeSantis, both Costello and Galloway decided to remain in the race. They’ve both invested substantial time and effort into their races.

For DeSantis, the shift was less dramatic.

“We ran a very minimalist campaign,” said Brad Herold, DeSantis’ senate campaign manager. “For us, there just wasn’t a lot to change, except for some literature.”

Herold pointed out that over the course of the senate campaign, DeSantis continually stressed the need to conserve financial resources for the later weeks of the race, which left him in decent shape for the House race, too. “He’s got about $3 million cash on hand, so he’s in pretty good shape.”

For other candidates, being in good financial shape may not be enough to absorb the shock of Rubio’s entry. Carlos Beruff has already spent millions to raise his name ID in the Senate race before Rubio. He, like Bircher, Costello, and Galloway, elected to stay in the race.

Beruff’s decision to challenge Rubio for his seat was attacked by two of his former primary competitors. Lopez-Cantera slammed him Monday night at the Seminole County Republican Executive Committee’s Hob Nob. As the Orlando Political Observer reported, Lopez-Cantera’s keynote speech featured a “fierce attack” on Beruff.

“Carlos Beruff supported Charlie Crist after he left the Republican party. Does that sound like someone who is a conservative Republican?” asked Lopez-Cantera. “This man is no conservative, this man is no Republican. He is [a] man driven by ego and self ambition and not by the principles we work hard for.”

Wilcox pulled no punches in a Facebook post on Tuesday, targeting Beruff’s “record of political contributions, support for Charlie Crist, high powered appointments and sweetheart deals for his buddies.” Wilcox also criticized Beruff’s continued delays in releasing his financial disclosures. “[A]s we’re learning with Hillary Clinton, only guilty politicians try to hide the truth from voters.” he wrote.

Reached by phone Tuesday evening, Wilcox said he had campaigned to return the Senate seat to the people, and he viewed Rubio as a “career politician,” but felt that Beruff’s record was too problematic to not speak out against him, mentioning opposition research files on Beruff that contained information that was public record, but not widely reported.

“If they knew what I knew, they would not support this guy,” said Wilcox, confident that voters would reject Beruff.

Wilcox also praised how Rubio had reached out to him the day the news broke that he was running for re-election. According to Wilcox, Rubio called him “within the hour” of the news breaking, and apologized for not calling sooner. “He walked me through his decision,” said Wilcox, and was “very gracious about it…I thought it was a classy move on his part.”

Asked about his future plans, Wilcox said that he was hoping to take up some political advocacy issues, especially veterans’ issues that are a priority for him as an Army combat veteran himself. Erin Isaac, who headed up his campaign communications, will remain on staff. He’s also looking forward to spending time with his family and getting back into the daily routine at his business. He also mentioned a planned trip to go lobster diving in the Keys in a few weeks, but first he’s “going to take some time and go sky diving this weekend.”

Wilcox isn’t the only Floridian approaching terminal velocity, but unfortunately for Beruff, there doesn’t seem to be a parachute for his poll numbers.

According to a recent poll showing Rubio at 73% and Beruff at a mere 6%, Beruff may soon become the go-to anecdote to explain the sunk cost fallacy. For now, Beruff is sticking to his guns. The question is, how long until the next domino falls?

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