Politics

One of Florida’s GOP Senate candidates isn’t ready to embrace Trump

Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., makes a statement as he takes part in an open debate for the U.S. Senate, April 25, 2016, in Orlando.
Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., makes a statement as he takes part in an open debate for the U.S. Senate, April 25, 2016, in Orlando. AP

After a sweeping victory Tuesday in Indiana’s presidential primary, Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, and party leaders are starting to fall in line behind him.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who had been refusing to talk about Trump, said Wednesday he will support the likely nominee.

But one of Florida’s Republican Senate candidates is not there yet.

U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, isn’t saying whether he’ll vote for the bombastic real estate mogul.

“I am undecided whether I will be supporting Mr. Trump in November,” Jolly wrote in a March 18 form letter, provided this week by his campaign in response to questions about the congressman’s presidential vote.

But, he wrote, he won’t support Hillary Clinton.

After Trump became the final Republican standing, Jolly congratulated him via a statement from spokeswoman Sarah Bascom. Still, he has not committed to voting for Trump.

In December, Jolly called on Trump to withdraw from the race, citing “his brutal, bullying bigotry.” By Florida’s presidential primary in March, Jolly’s tone had changed: He was not ready to endorse Trump, but he didn’t want party leaders to go against the will of voters and stop him, either.

Until Wednesday, Lopez-Cantera, who backed Sen. Marco Rubio until he dropped out of the race, simply wasn’t talking about Trump.

Earlier this week, the lieutenant governor’s campaign said that he was “focused on his Senate race and delivering results for Florida” in response to questions about Trump.

Now, though, “Carlos Lopez-Cantera believes that we must defeat Hillary Clinton by electing a Republican president,” spokeswoman Courtney Alexander said.

Lopez-Cantera, who lives in Miami, has ties to some of the most anti-Trump members of the Florida Republican ranks. Political strategist Rick Wilson, who left Lopez-Cantera’s Senate campaign to run Reform Washington, a super PAC that supports the lieutenant governor, has been one of the loudest voices in the #NeverTrump movement.

“Never. Means. Never,” Wilson tweeted Tuesday night.

The other three Republican Senate candidates have been happy to support Trump.

Carlos Beruff, a Bradenton homebuilder, has praised Trump since he entered the Senate race in March.

“Donald Trump is the nominee of our party,” he said in a statement Wednesday, “and I am committed to voting for him and supporting him so that we can take our country back from the liberal policies of Obama and Clinton.”

There are similarities between Beruff and Trump, two wealthy men who have long contributed to political candidates but are styling themselves as “outsiders” in this election cycle.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, plans to vote for Trump.

“The congressman has been clear that he will support the Republican nominee,” campaign manager Brad Herold said.

As recently as March, DeSantis would not endorse.

Todd Wilcox, a defense contractor from Orlando, plans to support Trump as well, assuming he wins the nomination.

If Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, she’ll have the support of her party’s two Senate candidates, Reps. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, and Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, who has endorsed Bernie Sanders.

Murphy has been a longtime Clinton supporter.

“I have been proud to endorse Secretary Clinton from day one of her campaign,” he said. “Secretary Clinton is the most qualified nominee we have ever had for the presidency, and I’m confident she’ll win the nomination and the White House this November.”

But Grayson, who last year was listed on Clinton’s Florida Leadership Council, said he will vote for Sanders as a super delegate at the Democratic Convention.

Come November, however, spokesman David Damron said, “he plans to vote for her if she’s the nominee.”

Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.

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