WASHINGTON – The blogger formerly known as Javier slid into a booth at Tortilla Coast but jumped up when hearing Gov. Rick Scott was a few tables away.
He walked over said a big hello and got a picture that quickly appeared on Twitter. "Is DC big enough for both @FLGovScott & I?"
Javier Manjarres, the conservative Shark Tank blogger from Fort Lauderdale, is an audacious guy, a self-styled anti-establishment renegade. But now he's looking to join the club with a run for Congress.
And he wants to be known as "Javi," playing up Hispanic roots in a would-be challenging bid to take on incumbent Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton in a district that favors Democrats.
Manjarres isn't a declared candidate. He's not the only Republican. And he has some scrapes in his past.
But Manjarres has a super PAC behind him (he says about $170,000 has been raised so far and the goal is to push $300,000 by the end of the year) and knows his way around political circles.
Deutch, of Boca Raton, easily won re-election in 2016 and is the clear favorite. Manjarres says redistricting made the district more competitive and contends independent voters have Republican leanings.
"It's all messaging," he said. "A lot of them are purists who are upset how the Boehners and the Ryans of the worlds have governed up here. They are upset at the Republican apparatus."
He would also make a direct appeal to Hispanics, hence "Javi." A business card he's been handing out reads Javi! and looks like the design used by Jeb! Bush.
Manjarres' parents came from Colombia and his father overstayed a visa – a fact he readily pointed out to illustrate moderation on immigration, despite espousing a hardline as a blogger and railing against the Gang of 8 that included Sen. Marco Rubio.
Manjarres, an early promoter of Rubio's 2010 Senate run, said he supports legislation to protect Dreamers. He was less clear about the millions of other undocumented residents but said he supports allowing them to come out of the shadows and make amends.
"There's always room for a probationary period," he said. "I never said deport them all."
He downplays social issues. Gay marriage? "I don't care. If you want to lose half your money in a divorce settlement just like the rest of us, go right ahead."
Channeling President Trump, Manjarres has taken to Twitter to pester Deutch, labeling him "Late Term Ted" and "Terrified Ted." Being associated with Trump could be a problem in the district but Manjarres sees no issue.
"I think he's doing a great job as far as countering the narrative that's being set against him. I wish maybe he would measure his words a little bit more," he said. "But for the most part, I think he's been doing a good job, a really good job."
He points to tax reform, which is still a work in progress, and Trump's international profile. "He's instilling that sense of fear in our enemies around the world. I think America is greater than it was a year ago."
Last year, Manjarres was arrested in Broward County after being accused of threatening his sister's boyfriend, including firing a bullet into his vehicle. Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg did not bring charges after the boyfriend refused to cooperate. In 1995, Manjarres was arrested for punching a man who was dating his old girlfriend.
"They never filed charges and they won't ever file charges against me," Manjarres said of the latest arrest. "I'm sure Ted and his people are going to throw that at me."
Deutch's campaign declined comment on Manjarres. "We will have plenty of time in the future to discuss the campaign when and if folks actually file to run," a spokesman said.
Manjarres was in Washington on a sunny weekday last month to meet with the NRCC, which has not taken a stance on a candidate. He also attended a fundraiser for America First Agenda PAC, started by GOP consultant Lauren Pardo, who teams up with Anthony Bustamante at Groundswell Strategies.
Essentially he is pursuing a Bush model – raising money for the super PAC before becoming a candidate. FEC records show America First Agenda had taken in about $88,000 through September and had spent $75,000.
The actual amount raised is about $170,000 and the goal is to raise at least $250,000 by the end of the year, according to Manjarres.
He insists he'll become an official candidate early next year.
"If I come up here I'm going to be my own person," Manjarres said from the booth at Tortilla Coast, dressed in a suit rather than his signature chest-baring button-down.
"I'm not going to play nice with the establishment if what they want me to do goes against my principles. If I have to butt heads, I'll butt heads."