- September 30, 2009
When Manatee homebuilder Carlos Beruff entered the campaign for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate, he had a lot going against him — little or no name recognition statewide; a businessman … worse, a developer; a novice to political campaigns (as a candidate); and a raw, honest, tell-it-like-it-is speaking style, which at times results in Beruff coming off in the media as cold and brusque (which he isn’t if you know him).
But at the time, none of the other Republicans in the race seeking to replace Sen. Marco Rubio had much of an edge, either. Why, can you even name any of them? How soon we forget.
But Beruff did have an advantage over most of his Republican opponents. He and Orlando entrepreneur Todd Wilcox, one of the former GOP Senate candidates, had earned the financial means to fund their primary campaigns. But Beruff’s advantage over Wilcox was that Beruff said, and has shown, that he is committed to self-funding however much is necessary to win the primary.
Beruff has had something else on his side: He was riding “the outsider,” “I’m-not-a-career-politician” wave with Donald Drumpf (until recently, anyway). In fact, Beruff’s campaign script appeared to mirror the same story line of Rick Scott’s 2010 campaign to win Florida’s gubernatorial election — i.e. persuade voters to shun career politicians in favor of a successful entrepreneur businessman who would take common-sense, conservative, business principles to Washington and get things done. No PC here.
Beruff and his advisers — and anyone else who watches Florida politics — knew the odds were long for Beruff, but as Scott proved, it could be done. An unknown political underdog could win. Hey, to some extent, even Rubio showed that when he knocked out Charlie Crist.
But then Rubio — to little surprise — changed the script for Beruff and his other opponents. Rubio did what he vowed he would not do.
Beruff’s odds for victory suddenly became even more difficult — a lot more difficult. It’s safe to say Marco Rubio probably could carry the GOP primary election on name recognition alone. Plus, he has the Washington GOP establishment, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate PAC money behind him. Add to that, Red State, the conservative, political online publisher, reported recently a poll showing Rubio leading Beruff 62-12.
But hold on. It’s not as simple as that.
Let’s not forget that three months ago in the Florida presidential primary, Rubio won only one of the state’s 67 counties. What’s more, you can surmise there are factions among loyal Republicans that aren’t exactly embracing Rubio with group hugs — the Jeb Bush Republicans and the Rick Scott Republicans.
While Bush said he is supporting Rubio, that support clearly is tepid. You don’t see the former Florida governor traveling the state and campaigning on Rubio’s behalf. The Bush Republicans are still smarting over Rubio entering the presidential race and upending Bush.
The Rick Scott Republicans are a mix of Tea Partyites and Drumpf supporters, the anti-career politician voters. Back in 2010, Rubio was a darling of the Tea Party Republicans, an eloquent, charismatic speaker on behalf of throwing out Obamacare and bringing Washington spending under control.
But it was obvious that after a year into his six-year term Rubio’s focus changed — from the Tea Party crusader to the Marco Rubio for president crusader.
While the polls may say Rubio is the clear front-runner in this race, there is ample Rubio backlash, especially after breaking his promise not to run for re-election.
During pre-election campaigns, we frequently have written that every election is a referendum on an incumbent’s performance. To be sure, this GOP Senate primary is a referendum on Rubio’s performance.
On the issues, Rubio, to his credit, maintained his Tea Party, smaller government, pro-liberty, reform-entitlements positions. The free-market Club for Growth gave Rubio a 98% rating, third-highest in the Senate, and the Washington-based Council for Citizens Against Government Waste ranked Rubio as a “Taxpayer Super Hero.”
In fact, if you put the political philosophies and principles of Rubio and Beruff side by side, there is little difference between the two. The core of their beliefs: individual freedom, pro-capitalism, get government out of our lives.
But if this GOP primary is a referendum on Rubio’s performance, it includes his behavior and character.
Early in his tenure, he established a political action committee that smelled of presidential aspirations. He traveled the world and nation delivering spell-binding speeches. He flip-flopped on immigration, campaigning in 2010 as a “never amnesty” Tea Partier, but then became one of the more visible members of the infamous “Gang of Eight,” embracing a “path to citizenship” (i.e. amnesty).
What’s more, Rubio became a political TV and radio talk-show personality. You could see right through it — this was good for his aspirations. When it was clear what he wanted, Rubio’s attendance record was among the worst in the Senate. He became the career Washington politician whose focus was on himself and his future first — a characteristic that has been consistent throughout his political career in Florida.
And this is exactly what Beruff’s campaign is about: Which of the two will put America and its voters first? Which of the two candidates can you trust to put America’s interests ahead of his own? Whom can you believe will do what he says?
Past is prologue.
One advantage we have had over most Florida voters is that we have seen and recorded Beruff’s 32-year business career — an entrepreneur who built his Medallion Home company from nothing to $44 million a year in revenues and 75 employees; and who managed through five Florida housing recessions — a testament of will, perseverance and leadership, a challenge that is far more difficult than making speeches and casting votes on legislation. Those who have signed their employees’ paychecks and who personally carry the financial risks of their businesses know that a company does not stay in business for three decades if its leader is an unethical cheat and liar. Staying power and success require integrity and trust.
What’s more, Beruff has a record as a gubernatorial appointee to three public boards — the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, the State College of Florida and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. On each of these boards, Beruff’s fellow board members chose him to serve as chairman — votes of confidence. And on each, Beruff established a record as a tough, steadfast steward of taxpayers’ money, often at the criticism of entrenched bureaucracies.
As Frederick Piccolo, CEO of the airport authority, told our sister paper, the Business Observer: “[Beruff] is old school. His word is his bond. He always challenged the status quo. He asked questions, and it was always nonconfrontational. He expected: ‘Have you done the best you can do?’ And he believed you can always do things more efficiently. He always kept reminding us: ‘This is some taxpayer’s money.’”
While most of the media and much of the electorate focus on the importance of the presidential race, the truth is the trajectory of our national government — which currently is more and more in debt and reaching deeper into our daily lives — is not going to change until voters send the right people to Congress. Congress is the branch of government that makes our laws.
For Florida Republicans, this is an opportunity to make that choice. In this case, at this moment in our nation’s journey, we’ll take an ethical, successful entrepreneur who promises to put America first over a career politician who put himself first.
We recommend: Carlos Beruff