Interview with Senate Hopeful Lopez-Cantera

Eleven Republicans are seeking to succeed Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate. Among them is Florida’s Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

Rubio hasn’t endorsed yet in the Republican primary. But on Monday, the senator suggested he may be ready to endorse the Republican he wants to see in office come January 2017. If this is to be any indication, Rubio is expected to appear Tuesday night at a Lopez-Cantera fundraiser in Washington, D.C., according to Florida Politics.

In the meantime, whether it is about supporting the presumptive Republican nominee for president or presenting his view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lopez-Cantera sounds a lot like Rubio.

In a phone interview with Jewish Insider on Friday, Lopez-Cantera said he doesn’t believe the two-state solution is currently a “viable” path to pursue peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. “I believe there is a willingness to find a solution from the Israeli side,” he said. “But it seems to me there is no deal that the Palestinians would take because when deciding where the border would be in a two-state solution, it seems like the Palestinians want the border to be the Mediterranean Sea, which means no Israel. That seems like the only thing that they would accept. Well, there is a willingness on the Israeli side. There is a willingness — more than a willingness to have peace. But that seems one-sided.”

Asked if he would support an agreed-upon peace settlement that is based on the 1967 borders with land swaps, Lopez-Cantera said he would support anything the Israelis are proposing, “But those type of offers have been made in the past and they been rebuked the Palestinians.”

Rubio echoed these same sentiments while courting Jewish voters ahead of the Florida presidential primary in March. “Two-state solutions involves the idea that there are two parties that are willing to agree to that, and there are not,” he said during a press conference in West Palm Beach. “I think Israel is willing to be incredibly accommodating and have proven their willingness to do so. The Palestinian Authority has never shown any willingness, in fact, they have turned down some very generous offers in the past.”

The Lieutenant Governor is equally hesitant about announcing his support of Trump. “I have announced that I am not supporting Hillary Clinton,” he said. “We need to have a Republican president as far as I am concerned.”

Lopez-Cantera just returned from his first trip to Israel as part of a delegation with the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association. “A lot of people have told me that you don’t understand Israel until you go there, and they were absolutely right,” he said about the trip. “Definitely, I learned that what the media portrays in this country is not necessarily reflective of what is actually happening. When we went over into what is commonly referred to as the West Bank beyond the green line – in Judea and Samaria and seeing the Arab towns; seeing how moderate they are, and seeing how well built they are, is completely contradictory to what we are led to believe here by the media. As a matter of fact, the only areas behind security checkpoints were the Jewish towns. And since I have returned, whenever the subject comes up; whenever I am talking to voters, I ask them, ‘When I mention to you the Palestinian areas in the West Bank, what is your mind by conscious?’ And every single time, they say, ‘Oh, you know, sacks or barriers run down – very poor.’ And then I show them a picture of Ramallah that I took and say, ‘This is what you think it looks? Is this what you believe it would like?’ And they are amazed. ‘Wow, that looks like a modern city.’ So that was one of the more eye-opening things as far as the trip.”

During the trip, Lopez-Cantera – at the age of 42 – held an impromptu bar mitzvah ceremony at the Western Wall. His wife, Renee, and mother are Jewish, while his father is Catholic.

The newly bar-mitzvah’d pol told Jewish Insider that the ceremony, conducted by a Chabad Rabbi, was a “great and memorable experience.”

If elected, Lopez-Cantera says he has not thought yet about committed assignments and whether he would seek to replace Rubio on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “I am more concerned with replacing Senator Rubio and that is where all my efforts are focused right now,” he said. But he added that he would like to be in an “effective position, especially on foreign policy as it relates to Israel and its defense – any position that makes me effective in that regard.”

Lopez-Cantera also discussed his a relationship with megadonor Norman Braman, who is head of his finance team, and also backed Rubik’s presidential bid. “We talk regularly. We’ve been pretty close for several years,” he said about his conversations with Braman. “We do talk about Israel. We talk about national and international issues. We also talk about my family, he gives me advice. He’s a good friend.”

His main challengers in the Republican primary include Rep. David Jolly, who has been leading in most polls, Rep. Ron DeSantis, Businessmen Carlos Beruff and Todd Wilcox.

If selected by Republican voters in the August primary, Lopez-Cantera says he’s ready to take on his Democratic challenger, no matter who they may be – Alan Grayson or Patrick Murphy. “I think they are equally easy targets because of the policies they support,” he told Jewish Insider. “They both supported the Iran deal. I think voters will hold them accountable for that. I think they are both equally vulnerable because of the party they are registered with and the policies that they promote.”

A recent Quinnipac poll showed Rep. Patrick Murphy leading Lopez-Cantera by four points (38–34), while Grayson ties him 37-37 percent.

“Do you think that Trump at the top of the ticket helps you or creates a challenge?” we asked.

“The honest answer to that question is: I don’t know,” he responded. “I don’t think anybody knows what November is going look like as far as the top of the ticket. I am focused on winning the senate race.”

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