October 26, 2016 at 2:33 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Pulse nightclub massacre overshadows Fla. Senate race
People visit the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on Oct. 9, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

People visit the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on Oct. 9, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Ricardo Negron-Almodovar, who is originally from the Puerto Rican city of Yauco, was at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on June 12 when he heard gunshots.

He said in a Human Rights Campaign video that he initially thought the gunshots were part of a reggaeton song. Negron-Almodovar said the music stopped and clubgoers “got on the floor.”

“People started screaming,” he said in the video that encourages LGBT people to vote.

Negron-Almodovar and a woman who was asking people whether they spoke Spanish survived the massacre that killed 49 people by running out of the nightclub.

Federal law prevents residents of Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. commonwealth, from voting in presidential elections.

Negron-Almodovar, who moved to Florida in 2015, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview that he plans to vote for Hillary Clinton. He said he is also “inclined” to support Florida Congressman Patrick Murphy in his race against U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

“It’s exciting,” Negron-Almodovar told the Blade. “This election has been dirty for lack of a better term.”

Rubio accused of using Pulse to ‘re-launch’ career

The Pulse nightclub massacre continues to overshadow the race between Murphy and Rubio that could determine whether Democrats regain control of the U.S. Senate.

A poll that Bloomberg Politics released on Wednesday indicates Rubio is ahead of Murphy by a 51-41 percent margin. A second poll from a Tampa Bay area television station notes the Republican incumbent is ahead of his Democratic challenger by four points.

Rubio said before he launched his failed presidential campaign that he would not seek another term in the U.S. Senate. Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan and Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith are among those who have sharply criticized him for announcing his re-election campaign less than two weeks after the massacre.

“Him using the Pulse massacre to re-launch his political career was beyond appalling,” Smith told the Blade on Tuesday in an email.

Smith and other advocates have criticized Rubio for not supporting gun control measures in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre. The Cuban-American Republican in August reiterated his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples when he spoke at an anti-LGBT conference that took place at an Orlando hotel.

“Rubio callously used the Pulse shooting to run for re-election and then once again turned his back on Florida families,” Jason Rubin, a spokesperson for Murphy’s campaign, told the Blade on Wednesday in a statement. “Floridians deserve better.”

Murphy’s campaign last week released an ad in which Christine Leinonen, the mother of Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, who died inside the Pulse nightclub with his fiancé, Juan Guerrero, appears. Murphy said in a Sept. 26 press release that announced he had received HRC’s endorsement that he supports the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights law.

“After the tragic Pulse shooting, it is clear that much work remains to end discrimination and keep LGBT Americans safe,” said Murphy.

“From marriage equality to employment nondiscrimination, Marco Rubio has opposed LGBT equality at every opportunity and has never stood with our LGBT community in Florida,” he added. “Our state deserves a senator who represents the voice of the LGBT community and all Floridians in the U.S. Senate.”

The Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, a PAC that formed after the Pulse nightclub massacre, has also endorsed Murphy.

“Patrick believes that we have a responsibility to the victims of the tragic Pulse shooting and Florida families throughout our state to act on gun violence and LGBT equality,” Rubin told the Blade.

Rubin also noted Murphy has “stood with” Christine Leinonen and Brandon Wolf, who was inside the nightclub when the gunman opened fire.

“Patrick will always fight for commonsense gun violence prevention that will help keep Florida families safe and is proud to sponsor the Equality Act to ban LGBT discrimination,” said Rubin.

Rubio in July endorsed Donald Trump during the Republican National Convention. He continues to support the Republican billionaire in spite of his lewd comments against women and sexual assault allegations that have come to light in recent weeks.

“His refusal to un-endorse Trump is exposing him as a political lightweight, a hollow man, pointing whichever way he thinks the wind is blowing,” Smith told the Blade.

Pulse massacre survivor meets with Rubio in D.C.

Rubio was with President Obama and Vice President Biden when they traveled to Orlando on June 16 and met with the families of the victims, survivors and the Pulse nightclub’s owners and employees who were working when the gunman opened fire.

Rubio in July met with Fred and Maria Wright, who lost their son, Jerry Wright, in the massacre. Angel Colon, who was shot inside the Pulse nightclub, and his mother in September sat down with Rubio in D.C.

“I admire Angel’s courage and appreciate him meeting with me to discuss preventing future terrorist attacks like the one he survived at Pulse nightclub,” Rubio told an Orlando television station after the meeting.

Rubio’s office helped relatives of the Pulse nightclub massacre victims obtain visas that allowed them to travel to Florida.

Rubio, who has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, in June voted for proposals that sought to expand background checks and temporarily stop gun sales to suspected terrorists after a judge found “probable cause” to do so. He also voted for a measure that would have kept the Pulse nightclub gunman in the national background check system for five years.

Rubio last month introduced the Terror Intelligence Improvement Act, which would bolster efforts to combat terrorism and make it harder for suspected terrorists to purchase firearms. Police in July arrested an Equality Florida staffer and nine other gun control supporters who staged a sit-in in the lobby of Rubio’s office in downtown Orlando.

Rubio and Nelson in June urged the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide financial assistance to businesses around the Pulse nightclub that were closed in the days after the massacre. Rubio last month introduced a bill that would allow survivors of terrorist attacks to receive automatic student loan deferments.

Terry DeCarlo, executive director of the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida, said Rubio and his staff reached out to him and his colleagues after the massacre.

DeCarlo told the Blade on Tuesday that this outreach did not continue.

“We haven’t heard a word from him since basically the first week,” he said.

Rubio’s campaign did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment on criticisms over his decision to run for re-election and his positions on gun control.

Orlando, gay news, Washington Blade

Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith hugs GLBT Community Center for Central Florida Executive Director Terry DeCarlo during a press conference in Orlando, Fla., on June 12, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Jason Fronczek)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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