A Republican Senate candidate in Florida is firing a warning shot at Sen. Marco Rubio and the party leaders trying to persuade him to run for re-election: GOP voters have already moved on.
Carlos Beruff's campaign released an internal poll Tuesday showing the wealthy developer in a dead heat atop a five-man field for the GOP nomination. The survey, conducted by OnMessage Inc. pollster Wes Anderson, found Beruff winning 17 percent of the primary vote, higher than Rep. David Jolly 's 16 percent.
The poll — which, as an internal survey, should be viewed with a dose of skepticism — touts the gains Beruff made since November, when the campaign found the Miami native drawing just 1 percent of the vote.
But its real target appears to be Rubio, whom Republican leaders have argued gives the GOP its best chance of holding a battleground Senate seat in November.
In a memo, the campaign says Beruff's surge proves GOP voters want a political outsider to be their Senate nominee. Though not a newcomer to politics, Beruff has never held elected office.
"While the power brokers in Washington continually try to manipulate the results, Florida Republicans are demanding change and they are ready to support candidates from outside of the political establishment," the memo says. "Similar to Gov. [Rick] Scott, Carlos Beruff is exactly the type of businessman outsider candidate the voters want to support."
The memo never mentions Rubio by name. But it cites Florida's GOP presidential primary as evidence that the state's Republican voters are in search of something different. Rubio lost to Donald Trump by nearly 20 points in the March primary.
"Clearly the results of the presidential primary just 2 ½ months ago were no fluke, as primary voters are demanding new leaders from outside of the political ranks," it reads. "The findings of this survey only confirm this powerful trend and bode well for the political outsider Carlos Beruff."
Though seemingly directed at Rubio, the memo also could be an argument against at least three of Beruff's existing Republican rivals for the nomination: Reps. Jolly and Ron DeSantis , and Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera .
In the poll, DeSantis finished third at 9 percent. Army veteran Todd Wilcox and Lopez-Cantera trailed behind in fourth and fifth place, respectively.
Although the campaign says Beruff's poll numbers reflect his profile as a political outsider, they're also attributable to the roughly $3 million the candidate has spent on TV ads . Beruff, drawing from his own personal fortune, has so far outspent his four major GOP rivals for the nomination.
Beruff's campaign said last week that he would not leave the race even if Rubio runs for re-election. Jolly, on the other hand, has said he would exit the campaign.
The survey also showed that 78 percent of Republican voters say that Beruff's proposal to at least temporarily ban all immigration from the Middle East makes them more likely to vote for him. Just 9 percent say it makes them less likely.
OnMessage conducted the survey from May 23 to 25, interviewing 800 "likely" GOP primary voters. The margin of error is 3.46 percentage points.