Trump supporters in U.S. Senate race in Florida distance themselves from comments about judge's ethnicity

Published June 8, 2016

Candidates for U.S. Senate in Florida who have supported Donald Trump's presidential bid are now joining the chorus of GOP leaders trying to distance themselves from Trump's comments that a federal judge was biased against him because he is a "Mexican."

That has another Republican in the contest taking pleasure in watching them "squirm" and a leading Democrat in the race blasting them all for not saying more sooner.

While Carlos Beruff, Ron DeSantis and Carlos Lopez-Cantera did not go as far as U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday, who called Trump's criticism of Indiana-born Gonzalo P. Curiel "the textbook definition of a racist comment," all said it was wrong to bring the judge's ethnic background into the debate.

"The idea that a federal judge is biased because of his ethnic background is wrong and I certainly don't agree with that," said Beruff, a Manatee County land developer.

Beruff said he supports Trump as the nominee, but does not agree with him 100 percent of the time.

DeSantis, a Congressman who earned his law degree from Harvard University, said while litigants can challenge a judge for bias, such challenges require specific reasons.

"Merely implying bias due to a judge's ethnic heritage is wrong as a matter of principle and legally illegitimate," said DeSantis, a Republican who lives near Jacksonville.

DeSantis, who has said he'll support the GOP nominee for president, said Americans should be judged on their performance and content of their character, "not on their racial or ethnic background."

Lopez-Cantera, Florida's lieutenant governor, said what Trump said was wrong.

"Donald Trump needs to realize he is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party and he needs to start speaking in a way that unites our country and this party," he said. "Divisive rhetoric born of frustration is not productive and is not going to solve any problems, it will only alienate Americans from our party, our message and our solutions."

The comments come as Democrats nationwide have turned up the heat on Republicans to either stand by Trump's comments or condemn him. U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who is running for the Democratic nomination in the Senate race, was no exception.

"Florida Republican Senate candidates' silence on Trump's racist remarks condones this damaging and offensive behavior," Murphy said. "I call on my Republican opponents to break their silence and condemn this vitriol. Floridians deserve better than this."

Orlando-area businessman Todd Wilcox, a Republican, refused to say anything directly about Trump's comments.

"Todd is focused on letting Florida Republicans know why we don't need another career politician in the US Senate," said Erin Isaac, a spokeswoman for Wilcox's campaign. "Other candidates and campaigns can speak for themselves."

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. David Jolly, a Pinellas County Republican, said it has been "fun to watch my opponents squirm" over Trump's comments.

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"Today I get to point out I never offered to support Donald Trump," the Pinellas County Republican said. "When he clinched after Indiana, every candidate went rushing to endorse him. I'm still not there yet."

Jolly said there was political pressure to fall in line with other Republicans, but said he still has issues with Trump like what has happened over the last several days.

"It is a sad day when any candidate - and Hillary Clinton has done some of this too - runs a campaign of division," Jolly said.