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Brothers of political bigwigs Marco Rubio and Ken Pruitt seek office

TALLAHASSEE — For two years, their brothers — House Speaker Marco Rubio and Senate President Ken Pruitt — have dominated state politics. Now, they hope to launch their own political careers.

Mario Rubio of Jacksonville and Will Pruitt of Lady Lake are both running for the Florida House.

"We didn't coordinate it," laughs Mario Rubio, a former Green Beret.

Conventional wisdom in Florida politics is that one successful politician begets another: Gus Bilirakis Sr. and Jr., Carrie and Kendrick Meek, Betty and Kathy Castor.

But the races of Mario Rubio and Will Pruitt are showing the limits of power and name identification in a sprawling, diverse state and reaffirming the mantra that all politics is local.

Both face tough Republican primaries Tuesday and are not the favored candidates. Neither is running in the same area that elected his brother.

Rubio's toughest competition for House District 17 comes from Lake Ray III, who served on the Jacksonville City Commission for eight years and is well known and better financed.

Pruitt faces a stiff challenge from Marlene O'Toole, a retired IBM executive who has racked up key endorsements from the incumbent vacating the seat and powerful lobbying groups, such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

"Gary Morse is a tough competitor," Pruitt said, suggesting that the developer of The Villages, a sprawling retirement community that is the heart of House District 42, is playing kingmaker.

Both candidates say their brothers have been assets — Sen. Pruitt has even called lobbyists for campaign donations — but they understand that family ties have limitations.

"It's been a blessing and a curse," Mario Rubio said. "People who like my brother will say that's great. People who don't may not support me."

At 58, Mario Rubio is 21 years older than Marco. He was born in Cuba and became the first Cuban-American quarterback at Miami High School, a football powerhouse. He moved to Jacksonville 32 years ago and works as a lobbyist for Blue Cross Blue Shield. Rubio said his opponents have tried to paint him as a carpetbagger from the Miami area, where his brother lives.

The older Rubio said he does not agree with everything that happened under his brother's watch, particularly property tax laws that have forced local government cutbacks. On his Web site, he highlights a need for home rule.

"He's his own man up there," Marco Rubio said. "If he wins it, it isn't because of me. It's because he has worked hard, raised a lot of money and has a compelling story."

Will Pruitt, 42, has run for the House before. He too works as lobbyist and is a former St. Lucie County sheriff's deputy. Politically, he shares his brother's emphasis on preserving Bright Futures scholarships.

"Some people think I'm him, and I don't have a problem with that," Will Pruitt said

The Republican Party of Florida, which has taken sides in other GOP primaries, is staying neutral in the Pruitt and Rubio contests.

Party chairman Jim Greer said that in a tough economy and an overall poor climate for Republicans, voters are closely scrutinizing candidates.

"From an inside-baseball perspective, their name ID matters," Greer said. "But from a broad-base voter perspective, they are going to have to stand on their experience and policy positions more than their names."

Brothers of political bigwigs Marco Rubio and Ken Pruitt seek office 08/22/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 24, 2008 10:32am]
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