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Carlos Lopez-Cantera plans July 15 Florida Senate race announcement

@PatriciaMazzei @MaryEllenKlas

Carlos Lopez-Cantera will leave little room for doubt Saturday that he’s running for U.S. Senate in 2016.

Florida’s lieutenant governor plans to tell Miami-Dade County Republicans at their annual fund-raising bash that he will make announce his plans July 15, the Miami Herald has learned.

Lopez-Cantera is slated to speak at the Miami-Dade GOP’s Lincoln Day dinner before Marco Rubio, the presidential candidate whom Lopez-Cantera would try to replace. The lieutenant governor will use his time to outline the contours of his candidacy, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. He also intends to say that his wife, Renee, has been one of the people encouraging him to consider a run — the clearest sign yet that Lopez-Cantera intends to jump in the race.

“If I get in the race, I know that it will be a long road, and a hard road, but if we're on that road together, nothing can stand in our way,” his remarks say. Renee Lopez-Cantera works in the Herald’s circulation department.

By not becoming a candidate until July, Carlos Lopez-Cantera would avoid a June 30 campaign-finance reporting deadline. His first quarterly disclosure wouldn’t be due until October, giving Lopez-Cantera several more months to schmooze political donors and try to make a splash when his first numbers come out.

He would need to prove fund-raising muscle. The only big-name Republican in the race so far, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, a tea-party favorite, has lined up formidable support from several conservative political action committees, including Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Senate Conservatives Fund. Another congressman, Jeff Miller of Chumuckla, is also likely to run.

Lopez-Cantera has been considering a bid since April. He made calls last month to activists and donors asking for their backing. They have been able to contribute to Reform Washington, a Tampa-based “Super PAC” created to support Lopez-Cantera. The Super PAC has invited donors to a fund-raiser Thursday at the Coral Gables home of Lopez-Cantera’s father.

The lieutenant governor is also scheduled to speak Tuesday to the Leon County GOP in Tallahassee. He gave brief remarks Friday to the Hillsborough County GOP in Tampa — where the headliner was Rubio’s hometown rival, former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Lopez-Cantera’s supporters view the Miami-Dade GOP dinner as the perfect venue to create a campaign buzz. Rubio’s presence will command national attention. And the fund-raiser is sold-out for the first time in a quarter century, party Chairman Nelson Diaz said, with 500 people expected at the main event and 250 at an earlier private reception.

State Sen. Anitere Flores of Miami, a Lopez-Cantera friend, said Friday after rumors swirled that he would announce his candidacy that she didn’t know what the lieutenant governor would say.

“It would be a good opportunity for him” to make news, she said. “He is going to have a roomful of very supportive members of the Republican Party, and they would be very receptive.”

Rubio, who was booked as the keynote speaker a year ago, long before he revealed his presidential plans, is not expected to veer from his stump speech. He and Lopez-Cantera are close; Lopez-Cantera sat on stage during Rubio’s campaign launch in Miami in April. Both Cuban Americans served in the Florida House of Representatives and are endorsed by billionaire donor Norman Braman, a Miami auto magnate.

Lopez-Cantera was Miami-Dade’s elected property appraiser before being picked as Gov. Rick Scott’s running mate last year.

Scott has indicated he would stay out of the Republican Senate primary. Lopez-Cantera would not have to resign his lieutenant governor position to run for federal office, though he would likely face criticism for using his state office to leverage campaign money.