Donna Shalala losing momentum as primary election approaches


w/ @AlexTDaugherty

Things seem to be heading the wrong direction for Donna Shalala.

Not only has the frontrunner in the Democratic primary for Florida’s 27th congressional district watched her lead shrink this summer, but the former Health and Human Services secretary also seen her closest competitor nearly triple her fundraising over the last month.

Newly filed pre-election campaign finance reports show that, during the five weeks between July 1 an Aug. 8, Shalala raised $134,983.53.

Not bad.

But state Rep. David Richardson pulled in $364,712.65 over the same period.

Richardson’s July haul suddenly gives him more money to spend over the final two weeks before election day. Though Shalala reported $723,319.44 in cash-on hand (compared to Richardson’s $566,476.64), more than $300,000 of that amount was earmarked for the general election.

A breakdown of the fundraising totals shows that Shalala, as of Aug. 8, had about $420,000 left to spend on the primary. Richardson had about $500,000. Matt Haggman, who raised $67,806.71 in July, had $280,000 to spend since close to a quarter-million of his money is reserved for the general election.

Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Michael Hepburn lag far behind in the money race.

Dollars aren’t the same as votes. But internal polls released by Richardson and Haggman last month suggest that the two candidates are gaining on the former University of Miami president. And if you compare Shalala’s end-of-primary fundraising totals to the $1.17 million she touted raising during her first three weeks as an official candidate (neglecting in a press release to mention that she loaned herself $500,000), it looks like her campaign is losing momentum.

As Richardson celebrated his fundraising numbers Friday, he was also campaigning in Miami with Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Pocan sees a competitive primary in a seat that favors Democrats as an opportunity to expand the power of liberal Democrats in Congress. 

"This is one of the best chances for a pickup in the country," Pocan said. "You do not take a majority in Congress if you don't pick this seat up. We've got a really, really great candidate in David Richardson, if you look at his background, it's the path he took as a state legislator where I see some of the most successful members of Congress coming from."
Pocan noted Richardson's work on prison reform in the Florida legislature as an example of someone who can make an impact even when the public's attention is elsewhere. 
"People don't become major advocates of prison reform to get ahead, it's the kind of issues people work on when no one's looking that kind of tells you who is a good candidate. It shows that he’s very woke to what’s going ton and Shalala is trying to wake up to what’s going on."

Richardson says his campaign is intensely focused on the ground game with a week and a half remaining in the primary, now that they've spent money on mailers and television ads to build up his name ID. His campaign estimates that about half of undecided voters are going his way, with the other half split between Shalala and Matt Haggman, Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Michael Hepburn

"I don’t believe in going to the doors too early," Richardson said. "I think its much more impactful to be at the door after they’ve seen the mail, TV messaging."

And Richardson said he isn't afraid to bring up Shalala's name and experience when talking with voters, adding that most already know who she is and he can use her well-known career as the former Secretary of Health and Human Services and tenure as the University of Miami president as a jumping off point to discuss their differences.

Pocan said he isn't worried that a Richardson victory in the primary would give Republicans more of a chance to win in November, arguing that the issues Richardson advocates for like Medicare for all are the issues that interest independent voters.

"I'm from Wisconsin. Honestly, if this was the decision to pick the next football coach, (Shalala) would be great, she made a great pick with Barry Alvarez at the University of Wisconsin," Pocan said. "But if it's to be the next member of Congress, it's got to be David."

This article has been updated to correct information regarding the candidates' primary election money. A previous version of this article lumped general election money in with primary election money.

August 15, 2018

Democrats eager for a blue wave admit Carlos Curbelo is beating them



Carlos Curbelo’s low-lying and Democratic-leaning Miami-to-Key West district is ground zero for a blue wave in November.

But he’s built a sizable sea wall.

With two-and-a-half months until Election Day, polling from Republicans and Democrats shows Curbelo with a lead over his likely Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in a district that Hillary Clinton won by more than 16 percentage points over Donald Trump, and Curbelo isn’t running television ads yet.

A poll released by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, an organization that seeks to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives, shows Curbelo with a seven-percentage-point lead over Mucarsel-Powell among 500 likely voters.

It’s unusual for political organizations to release polling that shows their favored candidate trailing, and the poll shows a larger gap between Mucarsel-Powell and Curbelo than a DCCC poll from April that showed Curbelo with a five percentage point lead.

“All I can figure is that the DCCC released this poll to send a message to their floundering candidate: ‘You’re losing. Get your campaign in order and do something about it,’” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Maddie Anderson said.

At least one Republican poll that hasn’t been released publicly shows Curbelo with a larger lead over Mucarsel-Powell than the DCCC poll.

The DCCC touted their poll, which was conducted a month ago, by arguing that the race became tied after voters heard basic biographical information about Curbelo and Mucarsel-Powell. Around the same time the poll was conducted, Mucarsel-Powell switched campaign managers and her husband was found to have financial ties to an Eastern European oligarch dogged by allegations of contract killings and embezzlement.

“In the initial vote, despite major name ID disparity, Mucarsel-Powell earns 41 percent to Congressman Curbelo’s 48 percent. This lead quickly erodes after equal biographic information from both sides,” a DCCC polling memo said. “This exodus from Curbelo is spurred by the introduction of Mucarsel-Powell, who at the time of the poll was largely unknown and had not yet communicated with voters in the 26th district.”

Mucarsel-Powell entered the race a year ago, and her campaign started running television ads to introduce herself last week, after the poll was conducted. But Curbelo hasn’t started running TV ads, and he finished the latest fundraising quarter with more money to spend than Mucarsel-Powell in an environment where 56 Democratic challengers outraised Republican incumbents across the country, many in districts that are far less friendly to Democrats on paper.

Read more here.

August 01, 2018

Curbelo, Diaz-Balart campaigns to receive campaign contributions from Trump

Curbelo (1)

via @anitakumar

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo didn't vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, but his campaign is about to get a cash infusion from the president as he fights for reelection. Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who did vote for Trump and is facing a competitive reelection himself, is also set to receive money along with Trump supporter and U.S. Senate hopeful Rick Scott. The Florida Republicans are part of a group of 100 Republicans nationwide that are receiving direct financial support from the president as the GOP seeks to maintain control of Congress. 

Read more below: 

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is giving money to a surprising group of Republican candidates this fall — those who are not only more moderate than he is, but also those have openly defied him on key issues of immigration and trade.

Some didn’t even vote for him.

Reps. Jeff Denham of California and Carlos Curbelo of Florida, who led a failed effort opposed by the White House to circumvent House leaders and force a vote on granting citizenship to so-called Dreamers, are getting Trump’s money, according to a list of favored candidates obtained by McClatchy.

Some vulnerable Republicans may not welcome the donations, fearful that Democrats will seize on the money as they look to tie the GOP to a controversial president in districts he lost in 2016 or where he remains unpopular.

“We have neither solicited nor received said contribution,” said Joanna Rodriguez, a spokesperson for Curbelo, who represents the most Democratic-leaning House district in the country held by a Republican seeking re-election.

Curbelo of Miami is a frequent critic of Trump and did not support him in the 2016 race.

The Trump campaign announced last week that it would donate the maximum amount allowed by law — $2,000 per candidate — to 100 Republicans running for Congress in November, perhaps a sign that the GOP is worried it will lose its majorities in Congress. Democrats need to pick up a net of 23 seats in the House and two in the Senate to gain control of the chambers.

The Trump campaign did not disclose which candidates would receive contributions and did not respond to subsequent questions about how the candidates were selected, but McClatchy obtained a detailed list.

Read more here.

July 30, 2018

This Republican could hold onto his blue-district seat even if Dems sweep


via @katieglueck    

Carlos Curbelo was fuming.

It was a sticky Friday afternoon in early July, and the Republican congressman had spent the last hour traipsing through a University of Florida research center, languidly asking academics about their work on environmental challenges confronting this more rural area south of Miami.

But as Curbelo emerged, blinking in the sunlight, I told him that his latest fight with the Trump administration had just metastasized.

The Department of Health and Human Services had already blocked Curbelo’s planned visit that day to a nearby shelter for children separated from their parents while crossing the border illegally, enraging Curbelo, who said that morning that his team had worked for weeks to follow protocol in arranging the visit. Now, HHS—embroiled in the enormously controversial if short-lived Trump administration policy of family separation—was complaining about the “significant and unnecessary strain” placed by visiting members of Congress.

“I don’t feel sorry for them at all,” Curbelo shot back. “We fund all of their operations and all of their salaries, so they should make the time and effort to allow us to see the work they’re doing, especially if they’re confident in the work they’re doing.”

Curbelo, seeking a third term, represents the most Democratic-leaning district held by a Republican running for reelection this cycle. That willingness to sharply criticize the Trump administration—evidence, allies say, of his independent profile—helps explain why he has thrived here so far.

But as Democrats plot a path back to the majority in the House of Representatives, their journey begins in districts like Curbelo’s: diverse, overwhelmingly Democratic, where Hillary Clinton won by double digits even as more centrist Republican House members managed to hang on in 2016.

Republicans in these districts, from Curbelo, whose sprawling district runs from Miami to Key West, to Barbara Comstock in Virginia, are battle-tested and considered some of the GOP’s strongest candidates. But based on the pure political realities of their districts at a time when the president is unpopular and progressives are energized, a Democratic loss in districts such as Florida 26 would call into question whether the political environment this election year is really so bad for Republicans after all.

“Curbelo is a very crafty politician, so it’s difficult, but…yes, we should be winning this seat on a consistent basis,” said Mike Abrams, a former state legislator and former chairman of the Dade Democratic Party.

Now, this race is shaping up as a national test of whether environment alone is enough to boost a bevy of lesser-known Democratic candidates—or if a strong personal brand still matters on a district-by-district level.

Pointing to Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Curbelo’s likely Democratic opponent, Abrams said: “If Debbie wins, I think you’re going to say it was a bellwether test of the state of Trump. At least in Miami-Dade County, the political climate was important. If she doesn’t win, I think then you would say, hey, there are Republican candidates that can overcome Trump’s innate unpopularity.”

Read more here.

July 24, 2018

Curbelo podcast: Millennials' plan to rein in the right


via @andreadrusch 

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo sat down with McClatchy/Miami Herald editor Kristin Roberts in New York City this weekend, take a listen to their conversation in podcast form below: 

Republican Carlos Curbelo says Congress’s millennial generation is boxing out GOP “demagogues” on Capitol Hill — dragging the party left on immigration and climate change.

Despite President Donald Trump’s hard right approach to both issues, Curbelo pointed to a recent immigration vote as proof the Republican mainstream now embraces policies the far right has “decried as amnesty.”

In a special live taping of Beyond the Bubble on Saturday, Curbelo also laid out plans for an ambitious climate change proposal he’s introducing on Capitol Hill. He said the majority of Republicans now “acknowledge either publicly or privately” that human beings are responsible for climate change, and they make up a growing share of the lawmakers in the Climate Solutions Caucus he founded.

“The rise of the millennial generation in the Congress is going to help turn the page on this ugly chapter in our nation’s politics,” said Curbelo, who is 38.

“I hope that our baby boomer colleagues realize that they that are at risk of leaving behind an ugly political legacy,” he added.

Curbelo’s Miami congressional district is challenging territory for Republicans. His constituents care deeply about climate change and immigration, and voted for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by 16 percentage points in 2016 — a bigger margin than any GOP-held congressional district in the country where the incumbent is seeking re-election.

Read more here.

July 23, 2018

Carlos Curbelo throws financial support behind Maria Elvira Salazar

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The Republican primary for retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat is a month away, but Rep. Carlos Curbelo isn't waiting for the general election to throw his support behind Maria Elvira Salazar

Curbelo's leadership PAC, What a Country! PAC, sent $2,500 to Salazar's campaign at the end of June, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Leadership PACs are vehicles for members of Congress to show financial support for other lawmakers and candidates, and they are allowed to donate up to $5,000 to a given candidate during each election cycle. 

"The people of Florida's 27th District made history nearly three decades ago by electing the first-ever Hispanic woman to serve in Congress," Curbelo spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez said in an email. "The Congressman hopes the people of FL-27 will continue that tradition in November." 

Salazar is the front-runner for the Republican nomination, according to multiple polls. The broadcast journalist leads the GOP field in money raised despite entering later than her top contender, county commissioner Bruno Barreiro

Whoever ends up being the Republican nominee will have the challenge of trying to maintain GOP control of a district that voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by more than 19 percentage points in 2016. Democrats are optimistic that they can flip seat in November, even though none of the Democrats running in the primary are Hispanic in a majority-Hispanic district. Multiple election prognosticators rate the seat as "lean Democratic."

Curbelo's leadership PAC has nearly doubled its activity from the 2016 cycle so far this year. What a Country! has donated $97,500 to 40 different lawmakers and candidates this cycle, all of whom are Republicans. In the past, Curbelo's PAC has donated to Republicans who did not share the congressman's views on immigration and 13 Republicans who received money from What a Country! did not sign Curbelo's discharge petition to force a series of immigration votes and voted against an all-GOP compromise immigration bill last month. 

Curbelo has said that his leadership PAC serves as a vehicle to help Republican lawmakers and candidates who want to overhaul the nation's immigration laws while securing the border. Salazar, like Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen, has spoken out in favor of changing the nation's immigration laws if elected to Congress.


Café con politics podcast: When the attacks focus on candidates’ spouses



On the latest episode of Café con Politics, the Miami Herald’s political team breaks down attacks on the spouses of two congressional candidates, Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s carbon tax, state Rep. David Richardson’s trip to Cuba and an update on the White House’s child separation policy.

The Herald’s D.C. reporter Alex Daugherty joined the podcast to discuss all these issues and more. Give it a listen.

Listen here.

July 20, 2018

Curbelo says 1,313 kids in Homestead shelter are treated with ‘care and compassion’

Immigration Florida


Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said one of the country’s largest compounds for immigrant children felt a lot like a high school after touring it for the first time on Friday.

Curbelo was able to visit the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children after initially being denied entry to the facility, which is in his district, by the Department of Health and Human Services.

There are currently 1,313 children from ages 13-17 at the facility, Curbelo said, and 114 of them are children who were separated from their parents at the border because of the Trump administration’s policy of separating families who cross the border illegally together. The rest of the children are unaccompanied minors who crossed the border without their parents.

“The minors in this facility are being treated with great care and compassion,” Curbelo said in an interview after he toured the facility. “From everything I saw these adolescents are being treated with great care and all of their needs are being attended to.”

Curbelo said the facility director told him that 37 children who were once at the facility have been reunited with their parents after being separated at the border, a policy that Curbelo and most lawmakers in Washington want to end.

Inside the facility, Curbelo said he saw classrooms where students were learning English, dormitory-style sleeping quarters and a cafeteria that reminded him of a high school. There are 1,700 employees dedicated to staffing the facility, and the gender split of the children appeared to be 60 percent male and 40 percent female, Curbelo said. Males and females appear to be completely separated from each other, they use the cafeteria at different times and have separate sleeping quarters and classrooms, he said.

Curbelo said he was told not to “interrogate” the children, but he did have “light conversations” with children who indicated they were being treated well.

“We had full access,” Curbelo said. “They asked us not to interrogate the minors but they did encourage light conversation. I greeted a lot of the minors, I asked them how they felt and how they were being treated, and they were positive conversations.”

Read more here.

July 19, 2018

Republicans scoff at a carbon tax as Curbelo unveils his own climate-change plan



Carlos Curbelo’s latest effort to shift the climate change debate within the Republican Party has a long way to go.

As the Miami Republican prepares to officially unveil a sweeping carbon tax bill on Monday that would provide $700 billion for infrastructure by taxing coal and natural gas emissions, House Republicans overwhelmingly voted for a resolution on Thursday expressing that a potential tax on carbon emissions would be detrimental to the U.S. economy.

Only six of 236 Republicans voted against the resolution, including Curbelo and retiring Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Curbelo argued that the resolution’s language was correct in that a carbon tax on its own would hurt the economy, but that a carbon tax paired with other ideas would help it.

“When you ask this question in a vacuum, is any tax detrimental to economic growth? It’s usually going to be yes,” Curbelo said. “But when you put it in context and you show how [a carbon tax] can be a component of a broader policy that is focused on winning the future, then it makes a whole lot more sense.”

Curbelo’s massive bill would repeal the federal gas tax and instead tax fossil fuels at the source. In exchange, the bill would enact a moratorium on certain environmental regulations if lower carbon emissions are met.

“Next week, you’ll see major legislation authored by a Republican and cosponsored by other Republicans to kind of show a good solution that... takes into account the cost of carbon emissions,” Curbelo said. “We wanted to make it as fair as possible and that’s why we repeal the gas tax. This is not about punishing consumers or punishing producers, it’s about making sure that we can hand off a clean, healthy planet to future generations while being sensitive to economic realities.”

But the political reality is that his bill is likely going nowhere in a Republican-controlled Congress with Donald Trump in the White House. Curbelo acknowledged that the bill, which he has been working on since last year, is about bringing different sides of the debate together and changing the conversation on climate change.

Curbelo’s district, which stretches from West Dade to Key West, includes low-lying territory that makes it one of the most vulnerable in the country when it comes to the effects of climate change. It’s also the most vulnerable for Republicans politically, at least on paper: Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in the district by more than 16 points in 2016, though Curbelo won reelection over former Democratic congressman Joe Garcia by over 11 points last cycle.

Curbelo’s likely Democratic opponent in November, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, accused him of political opportunism, noting that he voted in favor of the anti-carbon tax resolution in 2016 along with every other Republican in Congress.

“Just two years ago, Congressman Curbelo opposed a carbon tax and voted with his party to declare that it would supposedly harm American families,” Mucarsel-Powell said in a statement. “But now that he’s running against someone who has actively worked to fight climate change in our community, he wants us to believe he changed his mind.”

Read more here.

Paul Ryan-aligned PAC attacks Mucarsel-Powell over husband's work

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A super PAC with ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan is attacking congressional candidate Debbie Mucarsel-Powell on the airwaves after the Miami Herald and Daily Beast reported that Mucarsel-Powell's husband Robert Powell did legal work for multiple companies with ties to Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, who has been accused of contract killings and shady financial dealings. 

The radio spot from the Congressional Leadership Fund will begin airing today in English in the Miami media market. CLF seeks to elect Republicans to the House of Representatives, and opened up a field office in Rep. Carlos Curbelo's Miami-to-Key West district last year. 

"South Florida voters have absolutely no reason to trust Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s judgment after learning her family has been making hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Ukrainian oligarch accused of ‘contract killings and fraudulent billion-dollar schemes,'" said CLF Communications Director Courtney Alexander. "Debbie and her husband have a lot of questions to answer after taking dirty foreign money from a shady oligarch. South Florida voters deserve better than Debbie’s bad judgment."

Mucarsel-Powell's campaign said that any implication that her husband had any direct connection to Kolomoisky is an "enormous stretch" and Robert Powell said in a statement that he never "worked for, represented, answered to, or received any payment from Mr. Kolomoisky at any time." 

Powell took in almost $700,000 in income from a company Miami-based metals company connected to Kolomoisky in 2017 and 2016, according to Mucarsel-Powell's federal financial disclosure form. He has since left the company.  

The race between Mucarsel-Powell and Curbelo will be one of the most expensive in the country this cycle as Democrats try to wrestle control of the lower chamber. Democrats are expected to make some gains nationwide but need to flip about two dozen seats to take control, and Curbelo's Miami-to-Key West district is the most Democratic-leaning district in the country represented by a Republican running for reelection this year. 

Listen to the ad here.

Update: Mucarsel-Powell's campaign responds to the attack ad, referring to Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart's attack ad on his Democratic opponent from earlier this week. 

"Now we know Washington Republicans’ strategy in South Florida: attack strong women’s husbands because they can’t defend their own policies and voting records," Mucarsel-Powell spokesperson Melvin Félix said. "They have falsely attacked Mary Barzee Flores’ family and now they’re falsely attacking Debbie’s in an attempt to distract from the poor job they've done in Washington." 

July 17, 2018

Donna Shalala, Maria Elvira Salazar lead the money race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


With six weeks remaining until the August 28 primary, two women are leading their respective parties in fundraising in the race to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Latina elected to Congress. 

Democrat Donna Shalala and Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, who both have leads over the competition according to multiple polls, also have the most money left to spend in their competitive primaries. Shalala ended the latest fundraising quarter, which spanned from April 1 to June 30, with $1.1 million left to spend while Salazar has $578,000 in the bank. 

Two other Democrats, former state Rep. David Richardson and former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman also have more than $700,000 to spend as they try to upset Shalala. The reports which were finalized on Monday are the final fundraising totals released before the primary. 

Democrats are hopeful they will flip Ros-Lehtinen's district, which voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by over 19 percentage points in 2016, and the five Democrats running have a substantial advantage in combined cash raised over the nine Republicans still in the race. 

Salazar, a broadcast journalist, and Shalala, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services and president of the University of Miami, both entered the race after the other top contenders in their parties. Richardson leads the combined field in small dollar donations while Shalala has a small lead in total money raised over Richardson and Haggman. 

Republicans are hopeful that their nominee will remain competitive in a district that is majority Latino. The top Republican contenders are all Latino while all five Democrats in the race are not. 

The fundraising totals for Ros-Lehtinen's open seat have a different pattern than the two other GOP-held seats in Miami-Dade.

Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, who are both seeking reelection, have maintained a fundraising advantage over their top Democratic challengers though both Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Mary Barzee Flores are raising significant amounts of money.

Mucarsel-Powell has $1.2 million to spend while Curbelo has $2.6 million, one of the highest totals for a House Republican nationwide. Barzee Flores has $642,000 on hand while Diaz-Balart has $1.6 million.