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The Mystery of a Possible Florida Senate Candidate

Lopez-Cantera, left, could run for Senate. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images File Photo)

A handful of Republicans are currently being mentioned as possible Senate candidates for the Florida seat being vacated by Marco Rubio, who is running for the GOP presidential nomination.  

Former Rep. Bill McCollum, who has run repeatedly (and often unsuccessfully) for statewide office, is mentioned, as are a handful of House members, including Rep. Ron DeSantis, a tea party favorite. Perhaps the most interesting, or at least unusual, candidate for the Republican nomination is the state’s current lieutenant governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a former Florida House member (and majority leader) and Miami-Dade County property appraiser.  

What makes Lopez-Cantera, who was appointed to his current post in January 2014 by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, so unusual is that he is a Cuban-American Jew who was born in Madrid. His wife, Renee, is Jewish.  

Lopez-Cantera’s father is Catholic but his mother is Jewish, which makes the lieutenant governor Jewish according to Halakha (Jewish religious law).  

But is Lopez-Cantera  who has deflected questions about his religion  a practicing Jew, or does he identify with his father’s religion? On that, the evidence is inconclusive.  

Steve Bousquet wrote in the Tampa Bay Times that the Republican’s official state House biography in 2010 listed his religion as Catholic.  But a subsequent House manual did not list a religious affiliation for the Republican legislator, Bousquet noted.  

Sources tell me that Lopez-Cantera’s two children attend Hebrew Day School, and Bousquet has already reported that the lieutenant governor’s wife, Renee, is on the board of the Hebrew Loan Association of South Florida, which provides no-interest loans to Jewish individuals and families.  

Maybe most interestingly, the Chabad Lubavitch Community News Service, which reports on news of interest to the Hasidic community in Brooklyn and elsewhere, identified Lopez-Cantera as “Florida’s first Jewish Lieutenant Governor,” and observed that Tallahassee Rabbi Schneur Oirechman “has been visiting Lopez-Cantera for years, having helped him put on Tefillin during his term as Republican Majority Leader.”  

Of course, Chabad Lubavitch has always been active in trying to return non-practicing Jews back into the fold, and their identification of Lopez-Cantera as Jewish probably is little more than a function of the fact that, according to Jewish law, religion is passed on through the mother.  

The bottom line is there is no evidence the 41-year-old is a practicing Jew, and he doesn’t seem all that interested in demonstrating that he is. And he may not need to go into detail about his religious views and observances anytime soon, since political insiders are skeptical that he will actually make a run for the Senate.  

They suggest that although he was and remains an ally of Rubio, Lopez-Cantera’s record in the Florida House would leave him open to attacks from the right, probably limiting his prospects in a primary.  

But, if he does enter the Senate race, it will be difficult for Lopez-Cantera to remain so mysterious about his religious views.  

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