The déjà vu congressional race for Florida’s southernmost district features the same candidates, the same slogans and the same issues as it did two years ago.
Except this time it also involves a federal grand jury, a pile of ethics violations and an FBI witness on the lam.
Republican U.S. Rep. David Rivera handily defeated Democrat Joe Garcia in 2010. Now the congressman, plagued by controversy, is fighting for his political survival.
His party has largely abandoned him. He has been unable to raise much campaign money. And he has had to defend himself about pending federal investigations and state ethics charges in almost all of his recent public appearances.
Rivera has tried to counter these questions with political judo. The FBI probe? An invention, he claims, of The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and other media outlets. The 11 charges the Florida Commission of Ethics filed this week? A Democratic hit job. As for his opponent, Rivera has deployed the gravest of slurs: Garcia, he insists — without offering any proof — is an agent of Fidel Castro.
“That’s what’s at stake in this election,” Rivera told a Spanish-language television station this week. “Not these false allegations: having Havana’s man in Congress.”
The day before, Garcia, who has employed a campaign strategy of getting out of Rivera’s way, accused the congressman of engaging in “a great campaign of disinformation.”
“He’s in a desperate place,” Garcia told reporters at a forum sponsored by the AARP. “This is not about investigations ... When this gentleman gets up, he stands up for all of us.”