The Republicans running for Marco Rubio’s seat should be prepared to spend another six months in political limbo as the presidential race eclipses them.
The GOP presidential contest is dominating the attention of activists and primary voters, even more so with Donald Trump commanding center stage. Add in Florida-based candidates like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, a surging Carly Fiorina, conservative favorites like Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, making it harder for the Senate candidates to get much notice.
The primary is a year away but the candidates are trying to find their grooves. Carlos Lopez-Cantera is starting to show up at more events with his boss Rick Scott. Ron DeSantis is vocal about his disapproval of a deal with Iran and the need to cut taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood. David Jolly is looking to assure conservatives he is one of them despite his support of same-sex marriage, by introducing a bill to end federal funding of Planned Parenthood. Todd Wilcox is traversing the state, trying to leave a good first impression with voters.
Admittedly, they’re a relatively unknown group and they are likely to stay that way until the presidential primaries are over. Still, the upcoming months are important as the candidates raise money, find their niches, build organizations and meet with the party faithful.
Since most Florida Republicans have no idea who these candidates are and none of them have been in high office for long -- DeSantis has been in Congress since 2012, Lopez-Cantera was named lieutenant governor in 2014, which is the same year Jolly entered Congress, Wilcox has never held office -- endorsements matter more than they normally do. If the past few weeks are any indication, the candidates understand this: Pam Bondi lined up behind Lopez-Cantera, Jolly got the support of Dennis Ross and Tom Rooney backed DeSantis.
There’s another factor added into the equation with a few better-known Republicans contemplating a Senate run. Last week, Bill McCollum once again launched a trial balloon, telling the Palm Beach Post that he is still thinking about getting in with a final decision expected in late September/early October. McCollum hasn’t exactly shone in his two attempts at the Senate and his gubernatorial campaign, but he is well-known and, if he gets in, would start with the lead against a field of unknowns.
The Senate contest won’t command attention until Florida Republicans vote in the presidential primary in the middle of March. But, once that’s over, it will be a five-month sprint till the primary in August. In the meantime, the candidates have work to do in the months to come, laying the groundwork for what should be a competitive primary.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.