While Carlos Beruff continues to campaign in the U.S. Senate race, political observers across the state – including the media – have noted that with less than two months before election day, he’s not running hard enough to make a difference against incumbent Senator Marco Rubio. Instead, some suggest Beruff has a different endgame in mind: the 2018 election cycle.
“My experience with Carlos is, whatever he puts his mind to, he’s going to be successful,” said Governor Rick Scott, when asked about the possibility of Beruff running for governor in 2018. “Whether that’s trying to make sure his customers get what they want, or anything else, Carlos will be successful.”
To be sure, running in 2018 wasn’t Beruff’s original plan. He pumped millions of dollars of his own money into the 2016 senate race before Marco Rubio decided he wanted to keep his job. Four of the five GOP candidates in the race dropped out almost immediately. But the calculus for Beruff was almost certainly influenced by his previous multi-million dollar investment. The choices were grim: double down on a much riskier campaign against Rubio, or drop out of the race and lock in millions in lost campaign dollars he’d never see again. Neither option is attractive, which is why political insiders are speculating that Beruff has chosen a third alternative.
“Beruff didn’t get where he is in life by being an idiot, and trying to beat Rubio in this primary is about as useful as giving me his money to go on vacation,” said Steve Schale, a Democrat political consultant. “The fact he hasn’t gone hard at Rubio on TV says to me he understands the odds, and he also understands there is a huge opening on the GOP side for an outsider in 2018.”
Indeed, that’s the same model Rick Scott followed in 2010, and Beruff’s political consultants are some of the same architects of Scott’s 2010 outsider campaign strategy.
“He’s using this run to raise his name ID, build relationships, and establish himself as the change agent in the 2018 GOP field,” Schale adds.
When asked about the possibility of a 2018 campaign, Chris Hartline, Beruff’s spokesman, refused to answer the question.
“I’m not going to comment on Tallahassee rumors,” Hartline wrote in an email to The Capitolist. “Carlos is committed to the idea that career politicians can’t solve the problems our country faces. We need leaders that are committed to public service rather than their own political ambition.”
Hartline’s “career politicians” dig may be aimed at Rubio, but the fact that neither he, nor Beruff’s recent television ad, “Clean House” make mention of Rubio is ample evidence that Beruff already has his mind made up. For a self-funding campaign that allegedly has millions of dollars on hand, less than 2,700 of Florida’s estimated 2 million likely GOP primary voters have seen a recent anti-Rubio “attack ad” Beruff’s digital team posted on Youtube, and even fewer have seen the newest ad, “Clean House.”
This is not what a well-funded campaign – digital or otherwise – looks like if it’s playing to win.
“If Beruff is paying consultants thousands of dollars to produce those videos, why isn’t he also paying to put them in front of voters?” asked one Republican strategist who declined to be identified. “He’s either getting ripped off, or he’s not really running for Senate this cycle, he’s running for some other purpose.”
But even with higher name ID, and tying himself to the Trump brand, running for governor in 2018 won’t be an easy task. Unlike Bill McCollum in 2010, who got caught off guard and had to fight tooth-and-nail just to compete with Rick Scott’s blistering outsider ad campaign, Adam Putnam and other political observers have plenty of warning that Beruff may have the governor’s mansion in his sights. And they will be prepared.
“I believe Beruff is an opportunist, a frontrunner who thought that slavishly emulating Trump in ways large and small would produce the outcome Trump enjoyed in the Presidential primary,” says Mac Stipanovich, a GOP strategist and consultant. “He mistook a cult for a movement, an idiom -populism – for an ideology, and a moment for an era. Now he is going to get thrashed by an establishment standard bearer, which will damage him for future races. If he runs for the Senate (in 2018), he will face another self-funding Trump partisan with better name recognition and more money. If he runs for governor, he will again be thrashed by a well funded, highly organized conservative with wide experience and well deserved popularity. Carlos Beruff’s fifteen minutes of fame lasted about fifteen minutes.”