Robert Samuel Kaplan, frequent legislative candidate, dead at 66
Robert Kaplan at a 2018 Tiger Bay forum in Sarasota. Photo by Jacob Ogles

Robert Kaplan
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.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704