By John Gizzi / NEWSMAX
With their primary to choose a successor to retiring Sen. Marco Rubio less than three months away, Florida Republicans are now genuinely undecided on a favorite candidate.
For the GOP, this is a major dilemma. The race for Rubio's seat could be crucial as to whether the GOP retains control of the Senate.
Polls at this point almost universally show Democrats in Florida moving to centrist Rep. Patrick Murphy over far-left Rep. Adam Grayson, and major dollars appear to be moving to Murphy as well.
Among Republicans, however, the situation appears to be precisely the opposite.
According to a just-completed News Bay 13/News 9 poll, more than half of likely Republican primary voters have no favorite in the Senate primary.
Among those who do, Rep. David Jolly leads fellow Rep. Ron DeSantis by a margin of 18 percent to 11 percent. In third place is Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera with 9 percent and businessmen Todd Wilcox and Carlos Beruff at 7 percent and one percent respectively.
The same survey showed that a full 56 percent of Sunshine State Republicans would support formepresidential hopeful and Palm Beach resident Ben Carson if the entered the Senate sweepstakes.
"I truly don't know much about any of our [Senate] candidates," Gary Lee, former GOP chairman of Lee County (Fla.) and one of Rubio's first backers in the 2010 Senate race, told Newsmax. "None of them has really caught on yet."
At this point, the primary does seem to be evolving into a bout between moderate-to-conservative Jolly and conservative swashbuckler DeSantis. Both entered the House within the last four years—DeSantis by beating several political veterans in a newly-carved district in 2012, Jolly by winning the seat of his late boss Rep. Bill Young (R.-Fla.) in a special election last year.
DeSantis has a lifetime rating of 100 percent from the American Conservative Union, while Jolly's lifetime ACU rating is 48.50 percent.
"The differences between Ron and me are very simple," Jolly told us, "I'm a governing conservative and he's willing to shut down the government. We had five votes that would have shut down the federal government and I would not vote for closure. Yes, defunding Common Core and executive amnesty is important and it's easy to vote no. But we also have a responsibility to govern and if we don't legislate, we fail as a conservative movement."
DeSantis didn't disagree with his opponent's assessment and wore his votes against spending measures that would have closed the government as if they were Olympic gold medals.
"I've demonstrated I am committed to the principle of limited government," the onetime Yale baseball team captain and U.S. Navy veteran told Newsmax, "I've fought to defend taxpayers and to reorient our national policy."
Although the News 13 poll showed him trailing Jolly, DeSantis continues to mobilize support from grass-roots conservative activists as well as national conservative groups.
Among those weighing in for him are Gun Owners of America, the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, the Eagle Forum, Citizens United, and the "SuperPAC" of former UN Ambassador John Bolton.
At this point, DeSantis has raised more than $4.5 million, or roughly ten times as much as Jolly.
Lopez-Cantera has won statewide office and is backed by much of the organization of close friend Rubio. Although spending heavily from their own fortunes, both Wilcox and Beruff have so far yet to catch on.
Assessing his party's chances of holding Rubio's seat, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) told Newsmax recently: "Florida is so totally open no one knows. The filing deadline is not even until June and the primary is not until August. So no one knows what to make of Florida at this point."