Florida’s lieutenant governor likely to run for Rubio’s Senate seat – Tampabay.com

Carlos Lopez-Cantera left little room for doubt Saturday night that he’s running for U.S. Senate in 2016.

Florida’s lieutenant governor told Miami-Dade County Republicans at their annual fundraising bash that he will announce his plans July 15.

Lopez-Cantera spoke at the Miami-Dade GOP’s Lincoln Day dinner before Sen. Marco Rubio, the presidential candidate whom Lopez-Cantera would try to replace. The lieutenant governor used his time to outline the contours of his candidacy and said that his wife, Renee, has been one of the people encouraging him to consider a run — the clearest sign yet that Lopez-Cantera intends to jump in the race.

“If I get in the race, I know that it will be a long road, and a hard road, but if we’re on that road together, nothing can stand in our way,” he said. Renee Lopez-Cantera works in the Miami Herald‘s circulation department.

By not becoming a candidate until July, Lopez-Cantera avoids a June 30 campaign finance reporting deadline. His first quarterly disclosure wouldn’t be due until October, giving Lopez-Cantera several more months to schmooze political donors and try to make a splash when his first numbers come out.

The only big-name Republican in the race so far, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, a tea party favorite, has lined up formidable support from several conservative political action committees, including Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Senate Conservatives Fund. Another congressman, Jeff Miller of Chumuckla, is also likely to run.

Rubio closing gap

Marco Rubio has erased Jeb Bush‘s sizable lead in Florida and is now 2 percentage points behind the former governor, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.

The poll, released Thursday, showed Bush leading with 20 percent of Republican voters and Rubio with 18 percent. (Scott Walker got 9 percent.) In February, Bush led among Republicans in Florida with 32 percent, followed by Rubio with 15 percent.

Rubio, in the new poll, is the top second choice of voters in Florida and has the best overall favorability rating in the Republican pack — 75 percent.

“The favorability rating and combined first and second choice numbers show that in this crowded pack of candidates Sen. Rubio is making strong inroads with Republican primary voters and probably is the candidate who should be most heartened by the results of this poll,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll.

Separately, another Qunnipiac Poll last week showed Rubio has emerged as the strongest Republican challenger to Hillary Clinton in the key swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Different reactions

Immigration activists interrupted Rubio’s speech Thursday before Christian conservatives and his reaction contrasted with how Bush handled a similar outburst at his announcement speech Monday in Miami.

Rubio paused his speech as the activists talked about deferred action, the Obama administration program that has protected some young immigrants from deportation.

Rubio made a reference to how in Cuba such free speech would not be allowed, though staff at the Faith & Freedom Coalition ushered the activists out (as the crowd booed the demonstrators).

A man blocked reporters from leaving the room, then relented but said reporters wouldn’t be able to get back in.

“If you did that in another country, you would be in jail tonight,” Rubio said. “In America, people have a right to interrupt speeches, they have a right to be rude, they have a right to be wrong. We live in a free society.” He did not address immigration.

Bush’s speech Monday was stopped by a string of youth in green T-shirts that spelled out “legal status is not enough.” Bush, who oddly did not plan to address immigration in his speech, went off script.

“Just so our friends know, the next president of the United States will pass meaningful immigration reform so that will be solved. Not by executive order,” he said to explosive cheers from the audience, filled with Hispanics.

On Wednesday, Bush told ABC News that he supports a path to citizenship for immigrants brought to the country as children by their parents. While he once called for citizenship for the larger population, he now advocates earned legal status.

The scenes Monday and Thursday show how immigration will continue to be an issue for Bush and Rubio, both of whom have taken heat from conservatives.

Rubio opposes President Barack Obama‘s deferred action (though he has said he would not immediately end the program if elected) but has advocated for reforms and supports a path to citizenship.

Not quite Clinton

Clinton’s campaign manager will headline a fundraiser in Tampa on June 29.

Robby Mook will appear at Mise En Place and admission is $25 to $500.

Local chairman Alan Clendenin: “It’s finally happening right here in Tampa Bay! The Hillary Clinton campaign kickoff! Please join us in supporting Hillary for America as we welcome her Campaign Manager, Robby Mook! Everybody wanted him, but TAMPA BAY got him! Hear directly from Robby on how the campaign is shaping up and how Florida is going to push it over the top.”

Responds state Republican Party spokesman Wadi Gaitan: “It is sad that after only attending closed-door, expensive fundraisers during her last visit to Florida, Hillary is now skipping our state completely. By continuing to ignore the general public and the media with zero access, Hillary is further showing why Florida voters find her untrustworthy and out-of-touch.”

Buckhorn 2018?

Here’s another sign that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is open to raising his statewide profile: On June 26, he heads to Tallahassee for an appearance before the Capital Tiger Bay Club. Buckhorn, a second-term mayor, is seen as a possible Democratic candidate for governor in 2018.

Times staff writers Richard Danielson and Jeremy Wallace contributed to this report.

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