LUTZ — The table was set for 14.
But by the time U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff arrived at the Lutz Carrabas, only four people had shown up. Counting the organizers and campaign workers, the number of people who had to be at the meet-and-greet with the businessman-turned-politician exceeded the number of people who wanted to be.
The event by the Pasco Federated Republican Women's Club was initially billed as a debate among five GOP senate candidates. But after cancellations, Beruff found himself sharing the long table on the restaurant's patio with long-shot candidate Ernie Rivera, with State Road 54 and Suncoast Parkway traffic audible in the background.
Despite the lackluster showing, and a recent poll putting him 52 points behind front-running incumbent and former presidential candidate Marco Rubio, Beruff laughed off any concerns.
"Is that all?" he joked with a reporter before the meet-and-greet. "That's not bad. I'm not 90 points behind. It's only 52."
He said he prefers the underdog position, even though he'll have to increase his support by a percentage point a day until the Aug. 30 primary, which is 62 days away.
"I'm actually more comfortable in this position than I am in the lead," he said.
A jeweler before he turned to real estate, Beruff said he's relying on spending his own money on the campaign to help him earn more name recognition. He has previously said he's worth between $150 million and $200 million, and said Wednesday he's willing to put up to about $20 million into his senate bid. He's already sunk more than $4 million into the race.
"I have the resources that are necessary," he said. "I decided the day I got into it, I knew how much it was going to cost. I have enough to make ourselves known."
He said he will begin more broadly publicizing his campaign next week, which he said will improve his poll numbers.
Before Rubio entered the race last week, reneging on a promise not to seek reelection, Beruff circulated a poll among his supporters showing he was leading the race.
But Rubio's entrance, Beruff said, won't change his plans.
"I was all in with Mr. Rubio or without Mr. Rubio," he said. "So it makes no difference to me."
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or email@example.com. Follow @josh_solomon15.