Marco Rubio’s decision to run for re-election has upended the crowded Republican field jockeying to replace him.
In the immediate aftermath of the news leaking early Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera dropped out of the race, an anticipated move after he said last week that he’d step aside for Rubio.
"Before today, I was our best chance to keep the seat Republican,” Lopez-Cantera, a close personal friend of Rubio’s, told the Times/Herald on Wednesday. “But if Marco runs then he's our best chance. That's more important."
The path forward for U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, is less certain. There has been rampant speculation that he could abandon his Senate bid in favor of an open congressional seat in northeast Florida.
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“We'll make an announcement soon,” DeSantis’ campaign manager Brad Herold said in an email Wednesday.
Last week, DeSantis told radio host Hugh Hewitt, “Had he announced from the beginning that he was going to run for reelection, I would not have run. I would have supported him.”
The two first-time candidates in what was until Wednesday a crowded field of largely unknown Republicans plan to continue challenging Rubio.
“The power brokers in Washington think they can control this race,” Carlos Beruff, a Bradenton developer, said in a statement. “But the voters of Florida will not obey them. Like Marco Rubio in 2010, I’m not going to back down from the Washington establishment.”
Todd Wilcox, an Orlando defense contractor, has said for the last month that he’ll stay in the race regardless of Rubio’s decision.
“I decided to run for the United States Senate because of the complete failure on the part of our elected civilian leadership to solve the problems we face as a nation,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “I have 27 years of real world experience … None of that has changed based on yet another career politician entering this race."
On Friday, U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, announced he would leave the race and take on former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Democrat, in a re-election bid to Congress.
The Rubio decision was leaked just hours after a Quinnipiac University poll was released Wednesday morning showing he was in the best position to beat either U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy or U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, the two main Democrats running for the seat, in November.
That appears to be why Republican leaders have been pressuring Rubio to run for at least a month. Almost immediately, the National Republican Senatorial Committee made its support clear.
Marco Rubio is a valued leader for Florida and for our country, and I welcome his decision to ask voters for the opportunity to serve once again,” Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the committee’s chairman said in a statement. “His campaign will have the full support of the NRSC.”
Times/Herald staff writers Jeremy Wallace and Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.