Politics & Government

With new super PAC, Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera steps toward U.S. Senate run

Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera is not yet a 2016 candidate for U.S. Senate. But he very much sounds like he's preparing to be one.

Lopez-Cantera, who as of Thursday has the support of "super" political action committee to help him raise serious campaign cash, told the Miami Herald he's still "exploring" a bid for Marco Rubio's seat. But Lopez-Cantera has already thought about how a potential Republican primary between him and the only major GOP candidate so far, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, might look like.

"This race is going to be about who can defeat Harry Reid's hand-picked candidate," Lopez-Cantera said, referring to the Democratic minority leader and his apparent support of the only big Democrat in the Senate race so far, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter.

Translation: Lopez-Cantera, who in 2012 won a local countywide race in blue Miami-Dade, thinks he would be more appealing to general-election voters than DeSantis, a conservative tea-party darling.

Lopez-Cantera is also a close friend of Rubio's, and the two have talked about the possibility of being on the same ballot next year.

"We've had just a lot of conversations about what this could mean, the importance of Florida's role in our country," Lopez-Cantera said, calling Rubio "encouraging" about his friend's potential Senate run.Lopez-Cantera has been making calls to Republicans to gauge support.

"I'm giving it strong consideration, and getting a lot of support from around the state, getting a lot of encouragement from activists, donors, other elected officials," he said. "We won't make a final decision until probably later on this summer."

With the new super PAC, Lopez-Cantera can make more calls -- this time asking for contributions. As long as he remains an undeclared candidate, he can fund-raise for the Reform Washington super PAC without running afoul of campaign-finance laws that prohibit candidates from coordinating with super PACs.

A new super PAC -- Service.Honor.Country. Action Fund -- has already formed to help DeSantis, who has lined up support from a slew of other deep-pocketed conservative groups. Another North Florida Republican, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller of Chumuckla, is also considering a run.

The Tampa-based super PAC for Lopez-Cantera has the backing of some heavy-hitting donors, including Miami billionaire Norman Braman, who is a top Rubio benefactor and has supported Lopez-Cantera in the past. Also on board Darlene Jordan, a former co-finance chairwoman of Gov. Rick Scott's; Remedios Diaz-Oliver, Pat Neal and Trey Traviesa, according to a news release. Lopez-Cantera's separate pre-campaign team includes Republican consultant Rick Wilson.

Scott has a policy against endorsing in GOP primaries, even when it comes to his lieutenant. Scott picked the bilingual Lopez-Cantera, a former Florida House majority leader who was then Miami-Dade's elected property appraiser, to be his running mate last year.

If he runs, Lopez-Cantera plans to tout the economic record of the governor and GOP-controlled Legislature.

"Florida is a center-right state, and its citizenry is in line with the way that I view government's role," Lopez-Cantera said. "We've turned Florida around. In four years, we've erased the job losses that occurred when Charlie Crist was governor."

"There's too much Washington D.C. in Washington D.C.," he added, trying out a possible campaign line. "It's time for some Florida to be inserted into Washington D.C."