Florida’s primary elections are Tuesday, but you wouldn’t know it by watching either of the two top Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate over the past week.
Carlos Beruff, the brash, self-funding Republican hoping to take out Sen. Marco Rubio, has had just one campaign appearance over the last six days and reduced his television advertising spending.
Rubio has given three public campaign speeches totaling about one hour over three days and mentioned the looming primary race for all of 30 seconds. And in that short mention to campaign volunteers in Tallahassee, Rubio characterized Tuesday’s get-out-the-vote effort as “practice” for what his campaign will need in November.
Officially both campaigns say they are still working hard and taking nothing for granted. But the actions of both show that reality is setting in with each new poll. On Thursday, Mason-Dixon Polling & Research released new polling data from 400 likely Republican voters that showed 61 percent back Rubio, compared to just 22 percent for Beruff.
Rubio has this lead even though Beruff has poured more than $8 million of his own money into the campaign and pounded Rubio in a barrage of negative television ads over a six-week period.
Beruff’s campaign is bypassing smaller events that campaigns traditionally do in the days before an election, and is focusing instead on TV interviews in key markets to reach a bigger audience. On Wednesday, for instance, Beruff did a pair of interviews in Spanish in Miami. On Miami’s Colombian-American radio station, Caracol, Beruff insisted he had no regrets about the campaign and was not giving up.
“I don’t know how to quit,” he said.
It’s a significantly different feel to Beruff’s campaign than earlier this summer. When Rubio announced he had changed his mind in June and would seek re-election to the Senate after all. Four other Republicans were quick to drop out. Not Beruff. Instead the feisty homebuilder from Manatee County took on the uphill battle with vigor, launching attacks at Rubio, criss-crossing the state and vowing to spend as much as $15 million if necessary.
It wasn’t. Beruff was on that pace — spending nearly $1 million a week in ads — until August when he cut back as it became clear the race was not closing.
By Monday of this week, Beruff didn’t even venture out of Manatee County to campaign, staying home to attend a budget workshop on the Sarasota Bradenton Airport Authority.
Rubio insists he is not overlooking the Aug. 30 primary, even while rarely mentioning it to Republican voters. During a nearly 30-minute speech in Jackson County on Monday, Rubio never mentioned the primary as he addressed more than 200 Republican voters.
“We’ve worked hard, and we don’t take anything for granted,” Rubio said.
During speeches in North Florida and Southwest Florida this week, Rubio gave the impression he’s moved on from the primary and is focused on the November general election and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, the Palm Beach County Democrat who is leading public polls in the Democratic primary.
In Fort Myers on Wednesday Rubio warned that Murphy would be a “rubber stamp” if Hillary Clinton wins the White House and that if Democrats reclaim the Senate majority, it would tip the balance of power on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The bitter competition of the Democratic primary has also tapered off in the final days and weeks of the contest.
Murphy — long considered the steady front-runner — has been in general-election mode for almost a month, targeting his attacks on Rubio rather than his primary opponents, fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson and Pam Keith, a Miami labor attorney and former naval officer.
Murphy’s campaign stopped running TV ads the last two weeks to save money for the anticipated battle against Rubio, while also announcing Murphy prepaid $800,000 worth of fall advertising time.
A week out from the primary, Murphy has kept a low profile. He’s had a handful of photo-ops to drum up media coverage, but recent campaign stops weren’t open to the general public. Grayson vaguely announced a few campaign events he would have to end this week, but Keith is really the only Democratic candidate pounding the pavement ahead of next week’s election.
Since Tuesday, she has been on a weeklong, statewide tour with public appearances in almost every corner of the state.
Miami Herald reporters Patricia Mazzei and Kristen M. Clark contributed to this report.