KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Marco Rubio is one step closer to keeping his U.S. Senate seat. Rubio took an early lead over challenger Carlos Beruff and never let up, easily winning Tuesday's Republican primary.
Rubio was a Republican presidential candidate, but he dropped out of the race after eventual nominee Donald Trump soundly defeated him in Florida's presidential primary.
Initially, Rubio said he would not seek re-election to the U.S. Senate, but he changed his mind in June.
The 45-year-old first-term senator from West Miami defended his reversal of course.
"I understand my opponents will try to use this decision to score political points against me," Rubio said in a statement announcing his candidacy. "Have at it. Because I have never claimed to be perfect or to have all the answers."
Rubio has been criticized by Democratic Senate candidate Patrick Murphy for standing by Trump in the presidential election, despite calling him a con man. Rubio has said that there is too much at stake to let Hillary Clinton return to the White House. After announcing his intentions, Rubio said another Clinton presidency "would be a repeat of the early years of the current administration."
"On issue after issue, I'm proud of the work we've done on behalf of the people of our great state," Rubio said during a victory rally in Kissimmee.
Like Rubio, Beruff is a South Florida-born Cuban-American whose parents fled Cuba during the revolution.
Beruff rolled the dice to see if the anti-establishment mood powering Trump's presidential campaign could send him to Washington as well. But after spending $8 million of his own money and going nowhere in the polls, he essentially shut down his campaign ahead of the primary.
The 58-year-old homebuilder resigned from the board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District on the same day that he voted to approve his friend and fellow developer's plan to destroy an acre of high-quality wetlands for a development.
Beruff was criticized by Democrats for calling President Barack Obama "an animal" during a Republican gathering in May. He refused to apologize for his remarks.
"I got into this race because the Senate seat was open and was underwhelmed by our potential choices to represent the Republican Party," Beruff said in an email released by his campaign. "In fact, prior to Marco Rubio going back on his word, our campaign had moved into first place in the Republican primary. But sometimes life throws you a curveball. I made the miscalculation of taking Mr. Rubio at his word that he wouldn't seek re-election if he lost the presidential primary. Even in March he reiterated that he has told people '10,000' times that he is not running for re-election. I guess I was silly to believe the words of a Washington politician."
Beruff also took aim at former Republican Senate candidates David Jolly, Ron DeSantis and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.
"David Jolly went back to running for Congress, Ron DeSantis went back to running for Congress and Carlos Lopez-Cantera went back to doing whatever it is that he does, which is basically nothing except collect a check from the Florida taxpayers. The directive out of Washington was for everyone to kiss the senator's ring and bow out of the race. We did not yield to the Washington political establishment, and even though we did not win, I make no apologies."
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