Florida Democrats are pouncing on Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff today after he told a gathering of Broward County Republicans on Monday night that he doesn't want to let "anybody from the Middle East into this country."
The Sun Sentinel reported on the Manatee County developer's speech, noting that the remark was in response to a question from an audience member about his "position on Muslim immigration."
"Ah ha," the newspaper quoted Beruff as saying. "I think our immigration department is broken. And I don't think it's safe to allow anybody from the Middle East into this country."
He later clarified to the newspaper that "Israel is an exception" -- because "I think Israel's security measures are pretty strong" -- but his ban would apply to Christians and Muslims, the Sun Sentinel reported.
After the Sun Sentinel published its story online today, Florida Democratic Party spokesman Max Steele released a statement, calling Beruff's idea "absurdly misguided as it is bigoted."
"With these comments, Carlos Beruff has made it clear to Floridians that he lacks both the temperament and common sense to represent a proudly diverse state like Florida in the United States Senate," Steele said.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy also weighed in, saying in a campaign statement that Beruff's "full embrace of Donald Trump's extreme bigotry is flat-out un-American."
Beruff's comments echo -- and build upon -- remarks the GOP presidential frontrunner made in December. Trump called for a "total and complete shutdown" of Muslims entering the U.S. in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting.
Beruff said last month he would support whoever the Republican nominee is for president, while noting in regards to Trump specifically that there are "some things I don't agree with."
Murphy, a congressman from Jupiter, added that "Mr. Beruff's asinine comments and out-of-touch values are not just dangerous to our democracy, but are absolutely unacceptable for any candidate who wants to represent Floridians in the U.S. Senate."
Beruff's four main competitors in the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate race haven't volunteered their thoughts on Beruff's remarks yet, nor has Murphy's main Democratic primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando. The other Republican candidates are: U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami and Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott last week spoke glowingly of Beruff. When asked today by reporters in Tallahassee about Beruff's comments, Scott said: "I have not seen his comments, but in our state, I want people to come to our state."
In the face of today's criticism, Beruff doubled down in a statement this afternoon.
"The liberal media is out of control. And Democrats refuse to deal with reality. They make things up, sensationalize common sense solutions and exacerbate this obsession over political correctness. I stand by my answer and will repeat: anyone with ties, or possible ties, to terrorism should not be allowed in the United States," Beruff said.
He added: "The Obama Administration has allowed our immigration system to become a serious national security risk. Until we can ensure that our vetting process is full-proof and nothing will be missed in the process of approving people for admittance to the United States, it is the federal government's responsibility to do whatever is necessary to keep us safe here at home."
Herald/Times reporter Michael Auslen contributed to this report.
Photo credit: Bradenton Herald