Manatee County homebuilder Carlos Beruff has steadily increased his profile in recent years as a conservative reformer on various government boards. His next step could be a big leap into the spotlight as a Republican U.S. Senate candidate.
Beruff is considering a run for the Senate seat being vacated by GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio, a move that would make him the first Senate candidate from Southwest Florida since the failed 2006 bid of former congresswoman Katherine Harris and further shake up an already crowded primary featuring four candidates.
While some of his business dealings and political stances have been controversial, Beruff has a number of big assets if he decides to run, including his wealth, close relationship with Gov. Rick Scott and strong base of support in Southwest Florida’s business and political circles.
“He has a mountain of experience in the business world, he is an outsider to politics but he’s been courageous in his opinions and he’s been forthright and strong in pursuit of them,” said Pat Neal, another high profile homebuilder who has known Beruff for decades as a friend and business partner and strongly supports his entrance into the race.
Neal speaks with Beruff “almost every morning” and said his friend seriously is considering a run. The homebuilder’s potential candidacy may say something about the state of the primary.
None of the four GOP candidates are making much of an impression at this point and many political observers view the race as wide open. Beruff’s personal story, business background and conservative credentials would make him stand out, supporters say.
The son of Cuban immigrants, Beruff grew up in Miami and started in the home business in Southwest Florida as a salesman before forming his own business, Neal said. Beruff’s Medallion Home is now one of the region’s largest builders.
Along the way, Beruff has drawn criticism from environmental advocates and others for some of his projects, but supporters say that his record of job creation would outweigh any such concerns.
“There’s always going to be a portion of people who complain but I think across the board he’s done a great job for our local community,” said Christian Ziegler, a Republican state committeeman from Sarasota who supports Beruff getting into the Senate race.
Some of Beruff’s political activities also have been controversial. As a Scott appointee to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Beruff worked to roll back taxes and reduce the budget at an agency that plays a key role both in coordinating regional water supply efforts and protecting the environment. Environmental groups opposed the budget cuts.
More recently, Beruff set off a firestorm at State College of Florida, where he sits on the board, in pushing to eliminate teacher tenure for new hires, a move that drew a vote of “no confidence” from the school’s Faculty Senate and complaints that SCF will be at a disadvantage when hiring new teachers.
The homebuilder also has led Scott’s Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding, which was formed to take a sharp look at hospitals’ financial practices and has rankled the industry.
Beruff’s government experience likely would play well in a GOP primary where cutting taxes, reforming government and pushing free market business principles are top priorities for voters.
Whether Beruff also could appeal to voters in a general election is less clear. His penchant for taking strong stances and following through demonstrate a firmness of conviction that many voters might admire, and others could view as overly zealous. Regardless, his energy in pursuing a goal would be a major advantage in the race, said Jamie Miller, a former GOP consultant who has known Beruff for years and recently worked for him.
“If he does it there will not be anyone with more fire in their belly,” Miller said.
Beruff did not return messages Wednesday.
“I just don’t think he’s ready to share his platform,” Neal said.
The Senate primary is not until Aug. 30. Beruff has time to consider his options, but would need to decide fairly soon to begin raising money and building a campaign team. The four current GOP candidates – Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera, U.S. Reps. David Jolly and Ron DeSantis and businessman Todd Wilcox – all have begun building substantial war chests. Beruff likely would have to cut a large personal check to get his campaign off the ground.
The financial and time commitments are not something to take on lightly.
“You have to be fully in,” Ziegler said. “It’s a big commitment to go out there, especially for a statewide race where you have to travel around the state.”