A look at Florida and the South Florida Republicans

Time for an update from Florida. I’m going to give a small discussion on the current presidential race, then talk about the three districts in South Florida held by Republicans.Over the last few months, Obama has gained a slight lead thanks to spending $5M on advertizing in Florida, while McCain has remained dark, as detailed in this Miami Herald article. This is a significant shift from the point where McCain held almost a 10 point lead in the state. Since Florida is shifting in the opposite direction as the nation polls are, expect this slight lead to stay as is, until McCain starts running advertisements.

(Small update, SurveyUSA posted their Florida poll today that is more recent than Rasmussen showing a McCain with a 6 point lead. -h/t Wsjreader)

McCain has been using Joe Leiberman a great deal, having him talk to the Jewish community in South Florida. However, Obama has been targetting the Tampa area and Central Florida. I just about puked listening to the fawning local TV coverage last night.

Florida will be won by McCain, but he is going to need to start spending some money here. Now he does have a huge rally planned in the panhandle soon, so that will help considerably. Right now I see McCain’s biggest weakness in the central part of the state, he needs some visibility with personal appearances or spending on the Orlanda/Tampa stations.

Now, on to the congressional races. South Florida has three districts held by Cuban immigrants, FL-18, FL-21 and FL-25. Historically, the Democrats have not bothered to try and compete for these districts, but this year is different. The DNC has budgeted $20M to woo Hispanic voters in South Florida, targeting these three seats.

Florida 18

Florida 18 District Map

Incumbent: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen-R

Challengers: Annette Taddeo-D

Annette Taddeo is the darling of the Netroots, winning Netroots Nation’s All-star award. She is up against Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, one of the “Cuban 3” representing South Florida districts. Ros-Lehtinen has a decent fund raising advantage with $1.2M raised versus Taddeo’s $644K. I suspect that most of Taddeo’s money has come from the Netroots, since she is discussed continuously on the online blogs, while getting almost zero coverage in the local media outlets.

Taddeo is a businesswoman without a history of elected office. She has served in chamber of commerce positions, but never a general campaign. She also self identifies with numerous Hispanic women’s organizations, including a few awards. I must profess to not understand the circumstances, since her father is an Italian immigrant and she is a practicing Jew (which should mean her mother is Jewish). Whether or not she is Hispanic, she is not Cuban.

Recently, she found herself having to distance herself from Barack Obama. He did Taddeo no favors back in May with his address to the Cuban community, with his attempt to “clarify” his Castro position. She later had to explicitly state that his positions were not hers.

Ros-Lehtinen on the other hand was born in Havana and is a Catholic. She has served the district since 1999, when she was the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress. In 2006 she won re-election 62% to 38% with about 125,000 votes cast. This district’s party breakdown was 34D/41R/26I in 2006. Given the changes in Florida demographics, this is probably closer now, maybe 36D/39R/26I. The most recent poll for the district give Ros-Lehtinen a sizable lead, 58% to 31% with 11% undecided. One interesting note is that Ros-Lehtinen breaks with many conseravtives on only one issue, gay rights. With Key West in her district, she better have a strong standing with the gay community.

Prediction: This will remain a safe Republican district. While Taddeo is loved by the Netroots, I suspect that she doesn’t have the needed exposure in FL-18. Ros-Lehtinen has a comfortable funding advantage, and a comfortable lead in the polls. Significantly, the independents have made up their minds, and plan to re-elect her.

Florida 21

Florida 21 District Map

Incumbent: Lincoln Diaz-Balart-R

Challengers: Raul Martinez-D

This race is turning out to be a tough challenge for Diaz-Balart, the older brother of Mario Diaz-Balart who represents FL-25. Diaz-Balart has raised $1.5 million and has leftover cash from his previous campaign, giving him about $1.75M cash on hand. Martinez is also well funded with $1.2M raised to date. Both candidates are well known in the area, with Diaz-Balart having an edge having served since 1992.

There is an excellent article in the Sun Sentinel on this race. Here they discuss Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s background:

A lawyer, Diaz-Balart, 53, is the scion of a political family prominent in pre-revolutionary Cuba. His father, Rafael, was a classmate of Fidel Castro whose friendship with the eventual Cuban leader ended when Diaz-Balart joined the government of Fulgencio Batista. Rafael Diaz-Balart’s younger sister, Mirta, Lincoln’s aunt, was married to Castro for several years. In exile in Miami, Rafael Diaz-Balart encouraged the political aspirations of the oldest of his four sons, and both Lincoln and his younger brother Mario, who represents the 25th Congressional District, have become well-known for their fierce anti-Castro positions.

However, there is concern about the nature of the South Florida Hispanic community:

Beyond deciding who will represent the district’s 640,000 residents, the November election also will gauge what some see as seismic changes in the politics of the Cuban-American community. “We have seen for years that Miami and the Cuban-American community is changing,” said Philip Peters, a Cuba analyst at the Lexington Institute in Washington. “This election will be a test to see if that moderating opinion translates into a political result.”

This analysis is slightly at odds with the dancing that Taddeo did in FL-18 after Obama’s address to Cubans. If they are no longer a factor, she wouldn’t have needed to distance herself from him.

Raul Martinez is an interesting political figure. He is the former mayor of Hialeah, and a political heavy weight in the area. He was tried and convicted a few years back, winning on an appeal. He even won re-election while convicted:

Martinez remains a larger-than-life figure in working-class Hialeah, where the city hall is named after him. First elected mayor in 1981, he was returned to office eight times, including once when he was under indictment, and once after being sentenced to 10 years in prison.

This race will bring an interesting dynamic on the ethics question, since Diaz-Balart has the opposite reputation:

“He comes from a good family,” said Lidia Bruce, one of several older Cuban-Americans who turned out for a campaign volunteer breakfast in Pembroke Pines several weeks ago. “He has morals and values.”

And interesting side note is that two of the other local heavy weights, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D FL-20) and Kendrik Meeks (D FL-17) have promised to stay out of these races “because of ties to their three Republican colleagues”.

In my full summary of Florida, I made a mistake on the 2006 results. Diaz-Balart won 59% to 41% with about 110,000 people voting. The party affiliation for this district in 2006 was 34D/41R/26I. Given the changes in Florida demographics, this is probably closer now, maybe 36D/39R/26I. The latest poll in FL-21 is Diaz-Balart 41%, Martinez 37%, Undecided 22%.

Prediction: This will be a close race, and Diaz-Balart will have to work for it, but I expect he will retain the seat. Note that the poll numbers almost exactly match the party identification. Without a strong reason, the independents will probably break toward the incumbent, and they have a history of voting for him about 3 to 1. Even if Martinez, with the help from the DNC, gets half the independents, it won’t be enough. Diaz-Balart is in the hardest race of his career, but he is positioned well with plenty of money to defend.

Florida 25

Florida 25 District Map

Incumbent: Mario Diaz-Balart-R

Challengers: Joe Garcia-D

Mario Diaz-Balart, Lincoln’s younger brother, retained this seat in 2006 with a 58% to 42% win with about 110,000 votes cast. This district has about the same voter registration breakdown as the other two, in 2006 being 33D/40R/27I. Given the changes in Florida demographics, this is probably closer now, maybe 35D/38R/27I. Garcia has raised $844K while Diaz-Balart has raised $1.1M.

The personal biography of Mario Diaz-Balart is just as compelling as his brother Lincoln’s (See FL-21 analysis). His family is well known in the Cuban community. While he hasn’t served as long as his brother, he is still popular in the district, especially with the Cubans.

Joe Garcia is the chairman of the Miami-Dade Democrat Party, and has been effectively drafted to run for this seat by the Netroots. Like Taddeo, he is a favorite of the leftwing blogs, with almost no local coverage in the area. He is vocal in support of their issues (e.g. opposes the FISA bill). I’ve tried to find some biography on this guy, and he is a cipher. He apparently has held no elected office in the past. He is also getting painted as closely tied to Washington leadership, especially Charlie Rangel. Here is a quote from the Diaz-Balart campaign:

“Joe Garcia’s silence on his mentor’s sweetheart apartment deal is deafening,” said Carlos Curbelo, a spokesman for Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s re-election campaign. “Rare is the instance when Mr. Garcia has nothing to say on a matter, so it’s clear Charlie Rangel’s investment in Mr. Garcia is paying off in this instance.

Getting tagged with Rangel’s pro-Cuba reputation isn’t really a good situation to be in, in South Florida. The latest poll gives Diaz-Balart 44%, Garcia 39% and undecided 17%.

Prediction: This seat will be easier to hold than FL-21. The candidate drafted by the Netroots is weaker and not well known in the district by the voters. Exposure is a critical factor in success. The polling is better than the party affiliation breakdown, and Mario has enough money to compete. If Lincoln wins FL-21 then Mario will win FL-25. If Mario had an extra $500K advantage, then I would call this district safe for the Republican.