With Marco Rubio leaving the Senate to run for president next year, three Republican prospects to succeed him tell Newsmax they'll focus on national security if they capture Rubio's seat.
Newsmax spoke to Rep. Ron DeSantis, who is the lone Republican to officially declare his candidacy for the seat, and to two other Republicans now seriously considering a run: Rep. Jeff Miller and former State Attorney General Bill McCollum.
In explaining to Newsmax why he's leaving a safe House seat to seek the GOP Senate nomination, DeSantis said it's "because I'm worried this generation will not have as much opportunity as the last generation. I want to help the 2016 Republican presidential nominee, whoever that is, get our country back on track."
DeSantis made it clear that national security will be "on the front burner of issues in the Senate race. The rise of ISIS and the possibility of Iran having a nuclear bomb guarantee this is so." DeSantis, who also favors a harder line in dealing with Vladimir Putin on Ukraine, said he looks forward to working with Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, in the Senate to thwart any agreement that might raise the odds of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
After a lightning career that saw him become captain of the Yale baseball team, graduate from Harvard Law School, and serve in the U.S. Navy (where he was awarded the Bronze Star and the Iraq Campaign Medal), DeSantis won his first-ever race for office in 2012 by taking the newly carved 6th District in the Sunshine State. In so doing, the fledgling candidate raised more than $1.1 million and defeated five other Republicans in the primary.
DeSantis, 36, is the clear favorite of national conservatives in the GOP primary. Within 24 hours of his official announcement, the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund weighed in for him. In addition, former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton strongly endorsed DeSantis and will back him with his new super PAC.
Asked about any differences he would highlight between himself and fellow GOP Rep. Miller, DeSantis simply replied: "Jeff’s a friend of mine."
"And I'd say the same about Ron — he's a good friend," Miller told us, days after completing a swing through South Florida "and listening to voters."
Having succeeded former GOP Rep. and current MSNBC host Joe Scarborough in 2001, Miller, 55, is now chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Like DeSantis, he is motivated by "the threat of ISIS and the need for a strong national defense." But he added: "There's a boot on our throat that's holding us back from a real economic recovery. I'd like to see that changed."
Miller said he is "certainly exploring the [Senate] race. I haven't been planning to do this my entire career, but I will run, as I always have, based on what I can do in office. Right now, on a scale to one to 10 [for running], I'm about a five.”
Miller backers point out their man comes from the Florida Panhandle, which provides a sizable chunk of votes in the Republican primary.
Also mentioned is Bill McCollum, former 20-year U.S. representative and two-term state attorney general. McCollum lost a U.S. Senate race in 2000, a Senate primary in 2004, and a primary for governor in 2010.
"But Bill remains well-known and well-liked and I've urged him to make the race," Gary Lee, Republican state committeeman from Lee County, told Newsmax. "He's our best bet to keep the seat."
McCollum, 70, confirmed that "I am seriously looking at the Senate race and talking to people about it." He recalled how as a House member, he particularly focused on the issues of immigration and "peace through strength."
He told Newsmax: "I was leading on those issues in the 1980s, and I won't be afraid to lead on them if I become a candidate."
Aside from McCollum, the only other candidate mentioned for the Republican nod who has run for statewide office is Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. Elected to his present office last fall, Lopez-Cantera said Saturday he was "strongly considering" a Senate bid.
The state's second-highest elected official comes from the Miami-Dade area, which is growing in population but has a much smaller number of registered Republicans than Miller's Panhandle or McCollum's Orlando. But fans of Lopez-Cantera point out that the lieutenant governor is one of Rubio's closest friends, was on stage with the popular senator when he declared for president, and can count on help from Rubio's political team should he decide to run in 2016.
On the Democratic side, two-term Rep. Patrick Murphy, a self-styled "Bill Clinton Democrat" and son of a multimillionaire developer, is the strong favorite for the nomination in the August primary.
But most Florida Republicans make little secret of their hope that their eventual Senate nominee faces Rep. Alan Grayson. "Please God, let Grayson be the Democratic nominee," deadpanned one veteran GOP consultant. Grayson is considered one of the most outspoken, and political enemies say obnoxious, liberal Democrats in Congress. He has yet to declare his intentions.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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