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Feisty Senate candidate Carlos Beruff's journey from near-ruin to riches

Carlos Beruff was in ruins.

The tough-talking Republican U.S. Senate candidate boasts of his business success as a key selling point to voters. He turned a help-wanted ad into a home building business worth more than $150 million, his campaign touts.

But it's failure, he says, that ultimately put him in the position he is in today: a confident campaigner willing to put millions of his own money into his first-ever bid for political office.

His low point came in the early 1990s. After a decade of "pulling rabbits out of hats" to live another day in the land development business, Beruff had run out of magic.

"I almost went broke," said Beruff, one of five Republicans in the Senate race. "I didn't file bankruptcy, but I had some miserable times there for two or three years."

He was just 34 years old. But his fast ascent in the world of real estate was crumbling. A college drop-out, he was $20 million in debt and fending off more than a dozen subcontractors who were suing for more than $150,000 worth of unpaid bills. It wasn't just his business in shambles. After 14 years, he and his first wife divorced in 1996.

Steve Jonsson, a banker who had known Beruff for about 10 years, feared his client and friend was going under. But Jonsson said the fiery Beruff — though he had almost no leverage — passionately argued for more time to pay his debts. Jonsson said Beruff's confidence won him over.

"He said, 'I'm never going down this road again,'" Jonsson said.

His mistakes were clear, Beruff says. "It was youth and stupidity."

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