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In Boca Raton, Carlos Lopez-Cantera plays up Jewish roots

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, working to free himself from obscurity in Florida's Republican U.S. Senate primary, presided over an event Wednesday that most South Florida politicians would have craved.

The setting was at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County in Boca Raton for Gov. Rick Scott's ceremonial signing of Senate Bill 86, which prohibits the state from doing business with companies that favor a boycott of Israel.  The federation's Zinman Hall was packed with community leaders and legislators including U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, state Reps. Jared Moskowitz and Ritch Workmanand Sens. Joe Abruzzo, Maria Sachs and Joe Negron, who sponsored the bill along with Workman in the 2016 legislative session.

"Now, you may not have known this from my name, Lopez-Cantera, but I'm Jewish," the lieutenant governor said as the crowd of about 200 broke into applause. "My father came from Cuba but he married a nice Jewish girl in Miami, and I followed suit and married a nice Jewish girl in Miami as well ... We keep a Jewish household and are raising our daughters Jewish."

He called the event "very special to me," describing it as a message to the country and to the world "that bigotry and anti-Semitism have no place in Florida."

But in light of Lopez-Cantera's biographical story Wednesday, the question is, what took him so long? After Scott named him lieutenant governor in 2014, Lopez-Cantera was ambiguous about his religion, which earned him national media attention. "There is no evidence that (he) is a practicing Jew," Roll Call wrote last year.

In one of the largest Jewish communities in the U.S., he may have found a way to separate himself from a pack that includes U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis and David Jolly, wealthy businessman Carlos Beruff and entrepreneur Todd Wilcox. The Senate primary is Aug. 30, but voting for some will begin in late July.

"When he says, 'I'm a Jew,' he really means it," Rabbi Schneur Oirechman of Chabad Lubavitch in Tallahassee said of Lopez-Cantera.

The rabbi was even more effusive in his praise of Scott, who's considering a U.S. Senate candidacy in 2018. "You are very much like Moses," the rabbi said. "Your humility, your sincerity. I keep telling everyone, this governor really means it."

- Steve Bousquet, Tampa Bay Times