Just more than a year ago, Carlos Lopez-Cantera was Miami-Dade's property appraiser — not exactly a low-profile gig in a town built on real estate, but also hardly a launching pad for a big-time political career. However, Lopez-Cantera looks ready to make a Marco Rubio-esque leap from small-time South Florida politics onto the national stage.
In fact, it's actually Rubio's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat that insiders say the lieutenant governor has in his sights. Lopez-Cantera is in Miami this morning and has reportedly been calling supporters to gear up for the campaign.
Jumping into the Senate race would be a natural move for the Republican — regardless of the outcome, a statewide race would raise his profile outside of Miami, kick fundraising into gear, and get him out of Rick Scott's shadow.
"There would be very little downside for him to run for Senate," Jesse Manzano-Plaza, a partner at LSN Communications in Miami Beach and a veteran campaign consultant, tells New Times. "You establish your own network around the 67 counties you'll be campaigning in, you'll build your own fundraising network, and you're on a statewide ballot, so whether you win or lose, as long as you don't run a sloppy campaign, it boosts your profile."
But Lopez-Cantera would seemingly be in a good position to challenge for Rubio's spot. So far, the only GOP candidate who has officially announced a bid for the seat is Rep. Ron DeSantis — a Tea Party favorite from North Florida who has little name recognition in the rest of the state. Though DeSantis would likely struggle in Democrat-heavy South Florida, supporters say a native son like Lopez-Cantera could follow a Rubio-esque path to victory.
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"None of these guys from North Florida are going to be able to match a guy from Miami in appeal or popularity or even, I'd venture to say, in money," Manzano-Plaza says. "As a homegrown political guy from Miami, Lopez-Cantera would be a strong challenger."
Before Scott chose Lopez-Cantera as his lieutenant governor last year, the Republican had crafted a successful if low-profile career as a Florida House member and Miami-Dade property appraiser. He was known as a tight ally of Marco Rubio's back in his Tallahassee days, and — as New Times noted back in 2005 — is quite a gun-friendly politician, with a conceal-carry license of his own.