Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics

DeSantis is first GOP contender for Marco Rubio's Senate seat; expect more

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, an Ivy League-educated military veteran and favorite of tea party conservatives, became the first prominent Republican to announce his candidacy for Florida's U.S. Senate race Wednesday. [Ron DeSantis (2013)]
U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, an Ivy League-educated military veteran and favorite of tea party conservatives, became the first prominent Republican to announce his candidacy for Florida's U.S. Senate race Wednesday. [Ron DeSantis (2013)]
Published May 6, 2015

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, an Ivy League-educated military veteran and favorite of tea party conservatives, became the first prominent Republican to announce his candidacy for Florida's U.S. Senate race Wednesday. Nobody expects him to be the last.

"America needs a new generation of leaders to address the big issues facing the country: alleviating the middle class squeeze and promoting economic opportunity, confronting the significant national security challenges threatening the safety of our people, and reforming the culture of Washington, DC," DeSantis, 36, said in a statement released Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Lopez Cantera, 41, of Miami and U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, 55, of Chumuckla, have also been reaching out to donors and campaign professionals about running for the Republican nomination too. It has all the makings of the kind of unpredictable and expensive intra-party battle that party leaders had hoped to avoid to keep the Senate seat in the Republican column.

"I'm being told by other people in the party that there are concerns that the other potential candidates are not well known, and we need to hold the seat," McCollum, 70, told the Tampa Bay Times last week, saying is seriously looking at he race but would see how the field shakes out before deciding.

Miller spoke to a Republican group in Palm Beach County Wednesday and said he may take a couple months to decide as well.

"I think that there is an opportunity there, but it is a road that I think is a long road before we get to yes," he told members of the Palm Beach Republican Club, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Miller is among the most conservative Republicans in the Florida delegation, but the Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee has been in Congress since 2001 and is less associated with the Tea Party wing of the GOP than DeSantis, who was elected in 2012.

U..S. Rep. David Jolly of Pinellas County and state Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville also are keeping the door open.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater had looked like an overwhelming frontrunner for the seat now held by Republican Marco Rubio, but Atwater and several other top tier candidates have taken a pass on it .

Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, a moderate, two-term congressman from Palm Beach County, had already announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination, and Rep. Alan Grayson, liberal firebrand from Orlando, has said he is likely to run as well.

DeSantis is a member of the House Freedom Caucus that has often bucked House Speaker John Boehner and he has the support of conservative organizations including the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, and the Senate Conservatives Fund. Other Republicans, however, fear he is too far right to win a general election.

The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee sounded lukewarm about the first announced candidate for Florida Senate seat, with an aide saying only that they respect his candidacy and that the committee had met with DeSantis as it would with any candidate

The Democratic establishment has a similar dilemma, worried that a bruising primary could hurt their nominee and that Grayson would be too liberal to win a general election. On Wednesday, though, Democratic leaders focused on painting DeSantis as an extremist.

"Congressman Ron DeSantis, the poster-boy for Washington's partisan extremism and dysfunction, is in for a rude awakening when he takes his Tea Party record on the road in Florida," said Florida Democratic Chairwoman Allison Tant, noting that DeSantis voted against the Violence Against Women Act, opposes same-sex marriage and is skeptical about the existence of climate change.

DeSantis is a native Floridian who graduated from Yale University and Harvard Law School, where he earned a commission in the United States Navy as a JAG officer. On active duty he served as a military prosecutor, supported operations at the terrorist detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and deployed to Iraq during the 2007 troop surge as an advisor to a U.S. Navy SEAL commander in Iraq.

He was elected to the U.S. House in 2012, and has served on the Judiciary, Foreign Affairs and Oversight & Government Reform Committees. He is the chairman of the Oversight Committee's National Security subcommittee and the vice-chairman of the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice.

Contact Adam Smith at asmith@tampabay.com.