Robert Samuel Kaplan, frequent legislative candidate, dead at 66

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In the past decade, he challenged Joe Gruters, James Buchanan and Marco Rubio.

Perennial candidate Robert Samuel Kaplan has died.

Family confirmed the former Senate candidate passed away at home on Aug. 7. Kaplan, of Venice, had filed this year to challenge state Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, but ultimately failed to qualify.

Sister Sheila Fox said Kaplan was saddened when the state disqualified him based on a paperwork issue but that he did not want to fight the decision in court.

He firmly believed no official should be elected without facing at least some opposition on the ballot. But she said Kaplan also loved the process of campaigning.

“He was a great champion of freedom and rights,” she said. “He loved to campaign, to delegate and to work a crowd.”

The fact Kaplan failed to qualify had some political repercussions this year. As a candidate with no party affiliation, he would have provided a General Election opponent to whoever wins the Senate District 22 Republican Primary. Instead, the race will now be an open Primary where all voters can cast a ballot, and the winner of the Senate seat will be decided Aug. 23.

“He was excited to hit the campaign trail earlier this cycle and was very disappointed after he failed to qualify,” Gruters said. “He was always willing to listen and loved to talk to voters while out campaigning for the various seats over the years  Robert was a worthy opponent and he cared deeply about Sarasota and the issues we face as a community and state.”

Kaplan also challenged Gruters in 2020, receiving 6,696 votes, and ran in 2018 for an open House seat that Rep. James Buchanan ultimately won. He qualified as a write-in candidate against U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in 2016.

Fox said he lived a fulfilling life outside of politics, tutoring students in Sarasota County as they prepared for SATs. He earned a degree in psychology from the University of South Florida when he was 55 after briefly attending a number of colleges in his youth.

“He was a livewire, spirited and loved a good joke, no matter what drama occurred in his life,” Fox said. “I’m heartbroken I won’t be there to help him pick up the pieces.”

An obituary at Dignity Memorial states Kaplan was born in Atlanta. His funeral took place Aug. 11 at Temple Beth Sholom Cemetery in Sarasota.

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