Todd Wilcox is showing little worry even as polls continue to show him as a blip in Florida’s U.S. Senate Republican race and Carlos Beruff enters the race late also claiming the “outsider” lane.
The Orlando businessman entered the race last summer and still finds himself running a distant fourth behind three establishment candidates. And that was before Beruff’s entry last week, bringing an A-list of campaign staff and backers.
Yet in an interview Tuesday, Wilcox said noted the low name-recognition for all GOP candidates and said he does not count on the Republican primary race to begin capturing voters’ attention until June. That, he said, is what he is building his campaign toward.
The wide-open nature of the Florida Republican contest to replace U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is apparent from Beruff’s late entry, from the lackluster fundraising all of the GOP candidates have shown so far, and from polling that still finds almost half of Republican voters say they do not know any of the candidates.
A PPP poll released Tuesday shows U.S. Rep. David Jolly of St. Petersburg leading with 26 percent, followed by U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach with 14, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami with 11, and Wilcox with 2. Beruff was not in the poll.
“If ‘Undecided’ was running today, he’d be a shoe-in,” Wilcox said.
“I’m confident that, especially with the team that I’ve built, especially with the new finance team… that we’re going to have the resources it takes to get the message out to the 1.3 million super voters in the primary, and that’s really our focus,” he said. “I’m confident when it comes time to advertise, our message will resonate.”
On Monday Wilcox announced a beefed-up campaign finance team, adding statewide finance committee member Kenneth Feld of Sarasota, Finance Director Ann Marie Milano, and National Fundraising Team Bogart Associates, to J. Charles Gray, George Livingston, J. Patrick “Rick” Michaels, Jr., Michael Munz, Peter Rummell and Ambassador Ned. L. Siegel.
Wilcox is portraying himself as a political outsider in a year of political outsiders, and a defense contractor entrepreneur who, he said, has created 600 jobs. So he’s stressing national security and the economy.
He’s also stressing his vision for citizen government, using his political-outsider label to brand his competitors as career politicians. Last month he put out a five-point platform: limiting to two senate terms, eliminating Congressional pensions, demanding that members read laws and have all laws apply to them, and banning post-Congressional lobbying gigs.
“The feedback on social media was overwhelming,” Wilcox said.
On Monday Beruff, a Tampa-area developer, dismissed Wilcox as a viable outsider candidate, saying, “I’ve already shown what I can do.”
Wilcox laughed out loud as a response. Wilcox was an Army special-ops officer serving in counter-terrorism units, then joined the CIA, learned Arabic, and worked the Middle East and North Africa. Since getting out of the service, he’s started four businesses in Florida, including one that provides military special-operations consulting and logistics to the U.S. military.
“He (Beruff) has been sitting on appointed boards and contributing to the political class for a long time,” Wilcox said.
Republican Senate candidates have at least one debate set up tentatively, in Pinellas County, June 20. Wilcox said he is counting on as many face-to-face forums as possible.
“We were all at the Hillsborough Lincoln Day Dinner last Saturday, When I got up and gave my speech, poll anybody who was in the room, it was a stark contrast,” Wilcox maintained. “And then I threw out the ‘it’s time we elected a warrior and not another lawyer:’ standing ovation. The contrast is there when we speak in front of a group together. I’m eagerly looking forward to those opportunities to contrast myself, and I can do that with Carlos Beruff and the three candidates that are up there, all day long.”