TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - Republican U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis said on Wednesday he will seek the Senate seat held by Marco Rubio, who is forgoing a re-election bid to run for the Republican presidential nomination.
DeSantis, a conservative from North Florida who is in his second term in the House of Representatives, pledged to campaign on policies limiting the role of government.
“America needs a new generation of leaders to address the big issues facing the country: alleviating the middle-class squeeze and promoting economic opportunity, confronting the significant national security challenges threatening the safety of our people, and reforming the culture of Washington, D.C.,” he said in a statement announcing his candidacy.
The open U.S. Senate seat in Florida, the largest of the “swing states” that go back and forth between the major parties in presidential elections, could see one of the most hotly contested congressional elections in 2016.
Several prominent state Republicans have ruled out running for the Senate seat in a presidential year, which typically sees higher turnout among state Democratic voters.
Democratic U.S. Representative Patrick Murphy from southeast Florida is running, with wide support from his party’s leaders.
The Florida Democratic Party immediately launched a fake campaign website, calling DeSantis “For the Tea Party, Not You.”
His candidacy was quickly endorsed by the Senate Conservatives Fund, which noted that its political action committee has helped to elect high-profile conservatives, including Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rubio.
“He’s a strong conservative, he has grassroots support, and he can win,” the group said in a statement.
DeSantis, 36, stresses in his biography that he worked odd jobs to put himself through Yale University, then earned his law degree from Harvard Law School.
He has worked as a federal and military prosecutor and served in the U.S. Navy, deploying to Iraq in 2007 as an adviser, according to the biography on his campaign website.
He is a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve.
DeSantis lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, near Jacksonville.
Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Doina Chiacu