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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Two months ago the Republican race for a Florida U.S. Senate seat looked very different.
Fresh off a failed presidential run, Senate incumbent Marco Rubio said he wasn’t running and Florida Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera was emerging as the party favorite. But now Lopez-Cantera is out and Rubio is in, along with three political novices who hope to unseat him.
“Hi guys, thanks for coming. I know it’s hot out here,” Sen. Rubio said to a group of supporters gathered outside the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections’ office on Monday.
With two weeks to go until the primary, Rubio has already cast his ballot.
“(For) myself, obviously,” he said. “I hope everyone takes advantage of early voting.”
When speaking with reporters Monday, Rubio didn’t even mention his opponents by name.
“The harder challenge is the name recognition Marco Rubio has that I don’t have. I’ve always liked being the underdog,” said Carlos Beruff of Bradenton.
Real estate developer Beruff, much like Rubio, was born in Miami to Cuban immigrant parents. But unlike his primary challenger, Beruff has not spent almost his entire adult life in politics.
“At the end of the day you have a senator who hasn’t done anything in six years, who didn’t show up to work. He hasn’t accomplished anything. Look at the record, don’t look at the name. The name recognition is obvious. He ran for president. The name recognition is on the moon,” Beruff said. “If you want Washington to really get fixed, you better start throwing out the career politicians and changing the dynamics. I’m not looking for a career, I’ve already had one.”
If elected, Beruff said he would focus on funding the military and repealing, and replacing, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“I’m fiscally ultra-conservative and I am socially, too. Those are my beliefs and I stick by them,” he said.
Rubio took criticism recently for his decision to speak at a conservative gathering of religious leaders who oppose same sex marriage at a conference in Orlando, the city where a gunman killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in June.
He used the opportunity to tell Evangelicals to not judge the LGBT community.
“You don’t have to endorse what somebody might do in order to accept them for who they are and to love them which is what I think is the point of Christianity,” he said.
Republican voters will also see two other names on the ballot next to Rubio and Beruff.
Entrepreneur and educator Ernie Rivera and Pinellas County Detention Deputy Dwight Mark Anthony Young are also running.