Orlando defense contractor Todd Wilcox dropped out of the race for the U.S. Senate on Friday, leaving only a single high-profile challenger in the path of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s bid for the Republican nomination.
Rubio’s main opponent — in what could be one of the nation’s most-watched Senate contests — is Bradenton developer Carlos Beruff, who on Thursday received some support from Gov. Rick Scott.
Beruff on Friday maintained he won’t join the other GOP candidates who stepped aside after Rubio entered the contest days before the end of qualifying on Friday.
Wilcox originally said last week he would not be swayed by Rubio’s choice to seek re-election.
But in his statement Friday, Wilcox endorsed the incumbent, saying his decision was aimed at keeping the U.S. Senate in Republican hands.
“There is no doubt that Republican control of the Senate is the only way to preserve the constitutional integrity of our Supreme Court, realign our military’s force structure and ensure the basic freedoms and liberties that make ours the greatest country in the world,” Wilcox, a combat veteran, said in the statement.
Rubio announced Wednesday he would run for re-election after insisting for a year that he would step down to focus on what became a failed bid for president.
Rubio is considered by many political insiders to have the best chance to retain the Senate seat among the Republican field.
Numerous polls have found that most Floridians have little knowledge of any of the other major candidates who are or were seeking Rubio’s seat.
A poll by Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University released Wednesday indicated Rubio was the only Republican seeking the seat who could top either of the leading Democratic candidates, U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson.
“Sen. Rubio and I don’t agree on everything,” Wilcox said in his statement. “We’ve traveled different paths, but I respect his grasp of the challenges we face and I appreciate the reality that he, as the incumbent, is best positioned to defeat either Patrick Murphy or Alan Grayson in November.
“We cannot allow either of these liberal Democrats to carry on the disastrous policies of the Obama administration — Floridians deserve better,” Wilcox said.
Congressman David Jolly exited the race last week, opting instead to seek another term in the House, and setting up a November match-up against former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Democrat.
Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis — who has also shifted into a run for the House — dropped out of the GOP Senate primary Wednesday.
As Wilcox departed from the contest, Beruff, a businessman who paints himself as a Washington outsider, disparaged Rubio for reneging on his pledge to step down from the Senate.
“The voters of Florida can re-elect Washington’s candidate, who has consistently failed to do the job they hired him to do and won’t commit to serving a full six-year term,” Beruff said in a statement. “I’m not a politician. I’m a businessman who wants to bring a business mindset to the problems facing our country and our state.
“It’s simple. Do you want a senator who puts politics and their own ambition first? Or do you want a senator who puts Florida first?” he said.
On Thursday, Scott — who campaigned as a Tallahassee outsider in his 2010 bid for governor — posted on social media websites that his “good friend” Beruff deserves consideration.
“The voters of Florida deserve the opportunity to consider his candidacy alongside Senator Rubio and make their own decision,” Scott said. “The opinions of the political class in Washington are not relevant to the voters of Florida. Florida Republicans will pick the nominee on their own.”
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