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Diaz-Balart/Martinez smackdown now a toss-up?

So says the Cook Political Report. The independent political observer today changed the rating on the race from "lean Republican" to "toss up," saying the race "is finally living up to its billing as an invective-filled grudge match worthy of the Jerry Springer Show."

Cook says Lincoln Diaz-Balart's first TV ad is "a 30-second tour de force of (Raul) Martinez’s 'years of
embarrassing our community,' highlighting his early 1990’s corruption convictions and a brief appearance in a movie called 'Cocaine Cowboys.' "

But the blurb notes "multiple media outlets have criticized the ad for omitting that Martinez’s convictions were overturned on appeal, and that Martinez was not shown anywhere near cocaine in the mentioned drug-trafficking documentary.

Diaz-Balart clearly wants this race to play out in the 1990s and to serve as a referendum on Martinez’s time as mayor of Hialeah," the report says. "But Hialeah’s voters are the ones who have returned Martinez to office multiple times since his conviction and appeal, and most voters there are familiar with the saga. Where this race will be won or lost is in the non-Cuban-American portions of the district, where attitudes towards Martinez are less hardened but more voters are Democratic. If Martinez can portray Diaz-Balart as out of touch or obsessed with Cuban issues there and fend off Diaz-Balart’s attacks, he has a shot at capitalizing on this district’s increased Democratic registration numbers.

"Martinez has much higher negatives for now, but Diaz-Balart’s will rise as soon as Martinez starts spending. Polls show a very tight race."

Viewers will be able to catch a glimpse of the fun for themselves at 7:30 pm Oct. 15, the same night of the final presidential debate when WFOR-TV/CBS-4 airs a debate between Diaz-Balart and Martinez. The debate will be taped two days earlier.

The other big race: Mario Diaz-Balart vs. Joe Garcia will air at 7 p.m. that same night.

Overall, Cook says the race is tightening because "a worsening economy and a heightened focus on it have only increased voters’ anger and appetite for change....

"In this political environment, long-serving Republicans facing their first real challenges in years have the most to lose. At this point, decade-plus GOP Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Joe Knollenberg, and Phil English can no longer be considered clear favorites in their bids for reelection."