For Todd Wilcox, the Orlando shooting hit close to home.
He lives 15 miles away south from the nightclub where 49 people were killed, and 53 more were injured early Sunday morning. His youngest daughter, now seven years old, was born at the hospital across the street. His oldest daughter, a 23-year-old recent graduate, lives near Lake Eola, where a vigil was held Sunday night to honor the victims.
“It was just gut wrenching to see what happened,” said Wilcox.
Wilcox is one of five Republicans running for U.S. Senate seat currently held by Marco Rubio. On Tuesday, he’ll kick off a three-day campaign swing to talk about national security. The campaign tour had been in the works for several weeks, but Wilcox said the events in Orlando bring the issue of national security into the forefront of discussions.
“Orlando represents the largest single terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11 and the single largest mass casualty shooting,” said Wilcox during a stop in Fort Myers on Monday. “Whether it’s inspired or directed, it really doesn’t matter. The root cause is ISIS.”
Wilcox, a combat veteran and former CIA case officer, said the shooting should be act as a wake-up call that the “political leadership is failing in America.”
“We have to take this war to the enemy, and I really think we need to go after them,” he said. “We need to declare war on ISIS, and use every pillar of American power to destroy this enemy.”
Wilcox has already put forth part several suggestions to combat ISIS. Following the November 2015 attacks in Paris, Wilcox outlines a plan to take action to eliminate ISIS. That proposal included leading a coalition of Middle Eastern countries to create a standing army of 200,000 conventional troops to “destroy and occupy ISIS controlled territory” in Syria and Iraq. It also called on the United States to provide command and control, intel, and support for the coalition’s efforts.
Wilcox said the United States can use its cyber power to shut down ISIS’ “cancerous social media marketing machine,” and use the United States’ economic power to cut off revenue streams. But he also said allies in the Middle East need to step up and begin to “take back their religion.”
“The Arab world has got to wake up. There has to be a reformation in Islam. They need to take back their religion,” he said. “I’ve worked shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies in the Middle East in combat, and know there are a lot of people in the Middle East, Muslims, that want the same things for their kids that we want for our kids.”
Wilcox said the country did not need to ban Muslims — or people from countries with a terrorist connection — from entering the United States.
Wilcox said he thinks there was a notion that “people are feeding on the fear” that people have right now. He acknowledged it is a “legitimate fear,” but said banning Muslims from entering the United States “is not a feasible proposal.”
Wilcox faces Rep. Ron DeSantis, Rep. David Jolly, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, and Carlos Beruff in the Aug. 30 Republican primary. He said he has spent the past several months traveling the state, and said his message is resonating with voters.
“I’m encouraged by the feedback I get when the message gets out there,” he said. “I’m running out of desperation and frustration, not aspiration.”