Carlos Beruff last week skipped what was supposed to be the first political forum featuring all five Republican candidates running to replace Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate. He told a Sarasota TV station the next day that he never intended to show up.
"I was never gonna go, so I don't understand what happened," the Manatee County developer said. "I had a conflict, and I didn't go. That's all there is to it."
Except the event organizer said Beruff's campaign had confirmed its attendance back in April.
"'You already committed to me -- in April. And I know you committed to me first,'" Margi Helschien, president of America First, said she told a Beruff staffer when he told her last Tuesday that the candidate had a scheduling conflict.
The staffer didn't tell her what the conflict was -- only that it was a "private" matter (but not one involving his family, according to Helschien).
Beruff's campaign had already paid for a table inside the ballroom of the Boca Raton Marriott. He even had a place setting -- and a table for voters to pick up campaign signs, which had materials but no corresponding staffer.
"I still do not understand why he didn't come," Helschien said.
It's not the first time Beruff backs out of an appearance featuring a competitor, as Beruff rival Carlos Lopez-Cantera has noted. Both men were supposed to speak at a Hernando County Lincoln Day fundraiser, but Beruff ultimately didn't go.
The same thing happened in Brevard Countym, Chairman Barbara Davis said. She invited all the candidates. Beruff and defense contractor Todd Wilcox said they'd attend, but Beruff canceled at the last minute. (Wilcox did go.)
"The night before, his staff told me he had a family matter and couldn't attend" the Lincoln-Reagan dinner, Davis said of Beruff.
Beruff spokesman Chris Hartline said in a statement that Beruff, "unlike any other candidate, has traveled to all 67 counties in Florida meeting with voters, activists and local elected officials to talk about his message of bringing real change to Washington."
"When the time comes that all the candidates are in the same place, the career politicians will get a chance to ask Carlos about his 10 Steps to End Government Greed too," he said. "Considering they've been active participants in the massive growth of government, we're always interested in their perspective."
Asked by the television station if he planned to debate his opponents at some point, Beruff suggested none of them -- Wilcox, Lt. Gov. Lopez-Cantera, U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis and David Jolly -- were good enough to face him.
"Is it important for you to debate your Republican challengers?" reporter Alan Cohn asked.
"When there's somebody worth debating," Beruff responded. "At this point, I don't think there is any." He dismissed Lopez-Cantera, Jolly and DeSantis as "true career politicians."
Pressed once again, he added, "At the appropriate time, I'm sure we will have that opportunity."
A debate has been scheduled for Aug. 23 -- a week before the primary -- in Palm Beach.