So far, national conservative groups have largely stayed away from the GOP primary to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
But Miami broadcast journalist Maria Elvira Salazar nabbed an endorsement on Friday from FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group that promotes small government and frequently clashes with GOP leaders in Washington.
“Maria Elvira Salazar has the advantage every Republican candidate is looking for this year: authentic grassroots enthusiasm surrounding her campaign," FreedomWorks executive director Noah Wall said in a statement. "The feedback we received from activists across the district was overwhelmingly supportive of sending Salazar to Washington. Democrats are fundraising like crazy to flip this seat, so it will be a very competitive general election. Maria Elvira Salazar is the obvious choice for Republicans who want to send a strong and principled candidate into the general election and protect this seat."
The nine-person GOP field to replace Ros-Lehtinen includes former Miami-Dade commissioner Bruno Barriero, who entered the race a year ago. But Salazar and a host of other GOP hopefuls raised at least six figures in the latest fundraising quarter, and Salazar led the group with a $303,000 fundraising haul since announcing her candidacy in March.
FreedomWorks is frequently at odds with GOP leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, and is generally supportive of lawmakers who oppose any federal spending increases. Miami Republican Reps. Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart all have failing scores on their voting record from the group this year, and many lawmakers with high scores are members of the conservative Freedom Caucus.
Democrats are favored to flip Ros-Lehtinen's seat in November after Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by 19 percentage points in the coastal Miami-Dade district in 2016, though the Democratic field does not include a Hispanic candidate in a majority Hispanic district and Ros-Lehtinen said this week she plans to campaign for whoever wins the GOP primary in August.