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As Joe Martinez kicks off congressional campaign, GOP touts Carlos Curbelo



Election Day in Florida's 26th Congressional District is a year away, but the crowded Republican race to challenge Rep. Joe Garcia, a Miami Democrat, is already on.

Joe Martinez, the former chairman of the Miami-Dade County Commission, officially launched his campaign Thursday at the Olga Maria Martinez Senior Center in West Kendall, a facility he inaugurated named after his mother. The congressional district spans Kendall to Key West.

Less than two hours later, the National Republican Congressional Committee announced that another GOP contender in the race, Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo, has been named to the first level of the party's "Young Guns" program that promotes candidate recruitment. The NRCC considers Curbelo to be "On the Radar" -- a status that could help him attract new campaign donors.

Political parties often say that they stay out of primary contests, stepping in to help only once voters have selected a candidate for the general election. But in practice, parties frequently have favorites among primary candidates.

Martinez said on the eve of his campaign kickoff that he has not spoken to any national GOP officials about his run. His pitch, he said, is to the voters he represented for 12 years on the nonpartisan county commission.

"People here know what I've done. How I've been able to speak for them," he said. "People here, they're used to voting for me."

Martinez released a poll by The Tarrance Group, a Virginia-based firm, showing him leading Curbelo and the other two Republicans in the race so far, Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall and Jose Felix Peixoto of Key Largo. A fifth Republican, Lorenzo "Larry" Palomares-Starbuck, has also filed to run.

The poll found Martinez was ahead of Curbelo by 3 percent, as well as 14 percent ahead of MacDougall and 17 percent ahead of Peixoto. The firm did not release the questions it asked its 303 likely Republican primary voters between Nov. 5-7. Results had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 5.8 percent.

Curbelo released a poll of his own in June showing him closing in on Garcia, who was first elected last year.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for its part, issued a statement Thursday afternoon regarding Curbelo, signaling he's a candidate Democrats are watching.

"Voters in Florida will reject Carlos Curbelo and his Tea Party buddies in Congress because they're looking for representatives who will listen to them, not the most extreme elements of their party," the DCCC's Emily Bittner said. 

Photo credit Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald staff

This post has been updated to reflect Palomares-Starbuck's candidacy.