TALLAHASSEE — The race to replace U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is about to get more crowded.
Manatee County home builder Carlos Beruff confirms through a campaign video being released on Youtube this morning that he will run for Rubio's open Senate seat this year, joining a field that already includes four congressman, a business executive and the state's lieutenant governor.
Beruff, a multimillionaire Republican, will start his campaign in his hometown of Miami on Monday, then hold a rally later that same day in Manatee County where he started Medallion Homes in 1984.
In the two-minute and 19-second video, paid for by Carlos Beruff for Senate, the 58-year-old father of two pitches himself as a rags-to-riches story, rising from poverty to become president of Medallion Homes, which he says has built 2,500 homes in three counties in southwest Florida. Beruff notes he didn't finish college and went to work selling homes, which started him on his way.
Beruff's opponents have been bracing for his entrance for weeks by trying to label him a "Charlie Crist Republican," describing him as a political insider for his prolific campaign donating over the years, and questioning his business ethics after it was discovered some homes his company built included tainted Chinese drywall that resulted in a class-action lawsuit.
Beruff, who has never run for office before, launches his campaign with just five months until voting begins in the Republican primary. Such a late entrance in the race was once unheard of in Florida politics, but Beruff is entering a contest where none of the Republican candidates has built significant name identification or raised enough money to distinguish themselves as a clear front-runner. Beruff in January said in an interview with the Times/Herald that he felt as if he could enter the race late and still have a shot at winning. He has not said if he intends to self-fund any of his campaign.
Beruff also said then that he wouldn't enter the race unless he thought he could win and that he could get something done if he ultimately were the state's next U.S. senator.
Beruff, a close ally of Gov. Rick Scott, can turn to the governor as an example of a candidate who announced late and still won. Scott filed to run for governor in April 2010, which gave him just four months to defeat then-Attorney General Bill McCollum in the Republican primary.
The Republican field for the U.S. Senate already includes Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis and David Jolly, and businessman Todd Wilcox. The Democratic field includes U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson.
In his video announcement, filmed mostly in downtown Sarasota, Beruff decries high taxes, regulations and a culture of "government dependency."
"But it can be fixed," Beruff says. "This next election will make a big difference in policy. I think it's past time to get serious. That's why I'm doing this. This way, come hell or high water, I'm going to try."
Beruff has never held elective office but has been appointed to numerous boards and commissions since 2009. That year, then-Gov. Charlie Crist appointed him to the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport Authority, the Southwest Florida Water Management board and the State College of Florida board. Scott reappointed Beruff to all three positions and last year picked him to lead his hospital commission.
Beruff is also a major campaign donor.
Since 2002, Beruff and his businesses have donated more than $600,000 to mostly Republican campaigns, state and federal campaign records show. Beruff supported Gov. Jeb Bush's presidential campaign and in 2012 hosted fundraisers for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. He also has been a big supporter for U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, and Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami. Beruff has given another $363,000 to state campaigns on his own and through a half-dozen businesses he runs in Bradenton.
Contact Jeremy Wallace at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @jeremyswallace.