By John Celock
Florida’s lieutenant governor Wednesday officially entered the state’s U.S. Senate race setting off what is likely to be competitive primaries in both parties.
Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R) announced Wednesday in a video that he would be entering the GOP primary to succeed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination, instead of running for a second term. Lopez-Cantera has long been viewed as a likely Senate candidate as he enters what could become a four-way race for the Republican nomination.
“As a family we have decided that I am running for the United States Senate so your kids and mine can live in the country that gives the lessons of liberty and family that only America can provide,” Lopez-Cantera said in the video.
Lopez-Cantera enters a field already containing U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, a tea party favorite, and businessman Todd Wilcox. U.S. Rep. David Jolly is considered likely to enter the GOP primary in the coming weeks. On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy is the only announced candidate and has backing from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a favorite of progressives nationally, is considered likely to jump in the race to oppose Murphy.
Lopez-Cantera laid out a fairly conservative platform in the video, talking about how the tax cuts championed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) have helped the state’s economy. Lopez-Cantera, a Cuban American from Miami, said that his record in state and county government would be a benefit to the Senate.
“There will be a lot of people in this race talking about a lot of things,” he said in the video. “My conservative record in Florida is more than a promise, it shows I’ll fight for you.”
Lopez-Cantera also held a rally Wednesday afternoon to declare his candidacy.
Lopez-Cantera, 41, has along with Rubio enjoyed a rapid rise in Florida politics. Close friends, the two served alongside each other as state legislators representing the Miami area. Lopez-Cantera served as state House majority leader from 2010 to 2012. Forced to leave the Legislature in 2012 due to term limits, Lopez-Cantera was elected property appraiser of Miami-Dade County that year.
Scott tapped Lopez-Cantera to fill the vacant lieutenant governor’s post in February 2014, with some speculating the appointment was to help boost Scott’s reelection race among South Florida and Hispanic voters in a competitive campaign against former Gov. Charlie Crist (D). Lopez-Cantera’s tenure as lieutenant governor has been met with criticism from those saying that he has spent the tenure campaigning. News4Jax.com reported last month that state records showed Lopez-Cantera worked 367 hours on state business between January and June, with 968 hours equaling the hours of a 40 hour work week during that time period.
Florida’s lieutenant governor has no constitutional duties other than to succeed to a vacancy in the governor’s office and Scott left the office vacant for close to a year after former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll (R) stepped down in 2013 after a prior career doing public relations work for a charity tied to a gambling ring that she was not charged in. Only two lieutenant governors have succeeded to the governorship, Democrat Wayne Mixson for three days in 1987 and Democrat Buddy MacKay for 23 days in late 1998 and early 1999. The job was created in 1968 after being abolished in the 19th Century.
Previous lieutenant governors have been assigned a variety of duties including legislative liaison, running the state Lottery and Commerce Departments and working on specific policy issues. Carroll was involved in veterans policy and the running of the Space Florida program.
Lopez-Cantera’s entry in to the Senate race is being greeted with criticism from the DSCC, who took pains to tout Murphy, who is seen as a top Democratic Senate recruit nationally.
“Carlos Lopez-Cantera is a career politician who doesn’t do his job and routinely stands with special interests instead of Florida families. With his entrance into the race, Republicans in Florida and Washington are forced to endure a primary battle that promises to be ugly, divisive and damaging to their already tenuous hold on this seat,” DSCC communications director Justin Barasky said in a statement. “Democrats have a strong candidate in Patrick Murphy who is running a great campaign, and we are confident that we will flip this seat to Democratic control in 2016.”