August 17, 2018

A tale of two primaries: The race to replace Ros-Lehtinen enters the final stretch

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty

The Republican and Democratic primaries to replace Miami icon Ileana Ros-Lehtinen both have front-runners.

That’s where the similarities end.

Democrats are arguing over policy issues that could accelerate the party’s leftward shift and are trying to attack former University of Miami President Donna Shalala. Discussions about abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and implementing Medicare for all are ideas that just recently came to the national party’s attention.

Republicans are arguing that the leading candidate, TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, was flirtatious with former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in an television interview 23 years ago, lobbing well-worn accusations of being soft on Cuba that have been a staple of Miami campaigns for decades.

“You would think that in Miami that we’re running campaigns on foreign policy,” said Republican political consultant Jesse Manzano-Plaza, who is not involved in the GOP race. “This is an example on the federal level, but even on the policy it seems like it’s about the perception that someone may have been friendly to Fidel Castro in an interview years ago.”

When Ros-Lehtinen, the GOP’s leading social moderate in Congress and a noted critic of President Donald Trump, announced her retirement nearly a year and a half ago, the seat instantly became the Democrats’ to lose. Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by more than 19 percentage points in the district that encompasses Miami Beach, most of Miami, Kendall and parts of coastal South Dade.

Republicans and Democrats have gone 0 for 23 in situations like Ros-Lehtinen’s since 1994, when an incumbent representative doesn’t run for reelection in a district carried two years earlier by a president from the opposite party.

Read more here.

August 15, 2018

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

Curbelo

@alextdaugherty

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 06, 2018

New Matt Haggman poll shows Donna Shalala losing ground

Shalala

@alextdaugherty

Donna Shalala could have a serious fight on her hands.

New polling from Matt Haggman's campaign shows that Shalala's lead in the Democratic primary to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is shrinking with three weeks until the Aug. 28 election. 

The poll, conducted from Aug. 2 to 5 by RABA Research on behalf of the Haggman campaign, shows Shalala with a 10 percentage point lead over Haggman among likely primary voters and state Rep. David Richardson virtually tied with Haggman. A fourth candidate, Miami Beach commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, also captures double digit support in Haggman's poll while 27 percent of voters are not sure who they will vote for. 

The 10 percentage point lead for Shalala over Haggman is less than half of a 27 percentage point lead Shalala had when her campaign conducted a poll in June. 

The RABA poll, conducted in English and Spanish via automated and live phone surveys, gives Shalala 26 percent support while Haggman has 16, Richardson 15 and Rosen Gonzalez 11. Michael Hepburn received four percent. The poll's margin of error is 4.7 percent. 

"To see where we’re at with just over three weeks left until the primary compared to where we were a few months ago, this is a testament to the strong campaign that has been built," Haggman campaign manager Michael Edwards said in a statement. "As a first time candidate, Matt did not come in with the name recognition Donna Shalala did. When you look at the poll, 59% of likely voters could change their mind and over a quarter of the electorate is still undecided. We will continue to knock on every door and meet voters across the district, drive Matt’s progressive message forward, and take this race all the way to victory in November." 

Haggman and Richardson are trying to present themselves as liberal alternatives to Shalala, the former president of the University of Miami and the former Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton. Haggman, the former director of the Knight Foundation, and Richardson both support a "Medicare for all" healthcare system and want to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, two positions that Shalala does not support. Haggman was one of the first candidates running for congress nationwide to call for abolishing ICE and released television ads on the issue. 

Richardson and Haggman also have enough financial muscle to continue television advertisements through the primary, though Shalala has shown she can out raise the field and would have the resources to mount a substantial attack against either if she chooses to do so. 

Though Haggman's polling shows a tightening race, Shalala remains the favorite to win the nomination for a seat that Democrats expect to flip in November, as Ros-Lehtinen's Miami-based seat had the largest margin of victory for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump among all congressional districts held by Republicans in 2016. 

"The question is, where's Donna?" Richardson consultant Eric Johnson said.  

 

July 30, 2018

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

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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 20, 2018

At Democratic debate for Ros-Lehtinen seat, it was ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘It’s Complicated’

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via _@jacobsweet

At some debates, it’s hard to tell one candidate from another. This was one of them.

“We all have similar platforms, but we approach problems differently,” said Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, one of the five Democratic candidates who debated each other Thursday night in the race for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, a seat now held by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican who is retiring.

While some expected frequent attacks to be levied against frontrunner Donna Shalala, the former University of Miami president, attacks among the candidates were infrequent throughout the night.

The most substantial challenges throughout the evening came from state Rep. David Richardson, who represents Miami Beach and Little Havana. His critiques were leveled at Shalala.

At one point during a series of questions about immigration, he said Shalala had contributed to the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” Policy, a 1995 revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act, while she was U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton. Michael Putney, the moderator for the debate, said Shalala had not contributed to the policy.

Hours later, Richardson challenged Shalala to submit her financial disclosure statements — forms the public can use to evaluate potential conflicts of interest. Richardson noted that she has delayed sending the two documents two times. He emphasized that she may take an extra extension of 30 days to turn in the forms, the latest time that she would be allowed to turn them in.

Shalala fought back, saying Richardson had also taken two extensions in sending in the documents, which he acknowledged to be true.

Of the five candidates, only three had significant visible representation at the debate: Shalala, Richardson and Matt Haggman, a former reporter for the Miami Herald and most recently, the Knight Foundation program director for Miami. Of the five candidates, only those three left campaign materials on the church pews. Rosen Gonzalez. a Miami Beach commissioner, and Michael A. Hepburn, a former University of Miami academic adviser, had fewer visible pockets of support.

Read more here.

July 16, 2018

Florida lawmakers blast Trump for not calling out Putin

Donald trump 2

via @learyreports

Florida lawmakers on Monday blasted President Trump over taking Vladimir Putin's word that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election, a conclusion that stands in dramatic contrast to widely held views among the intelligence community and on Capitol Hill.

"I don't see any reason why" Russia would do that, Trump said in Helsinki.

"What the president said today is not accurate," Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said during an Atlantic Council event.

Florida Democrats were the first to react and in sharper terms.

"The president's refusal to acknowledge that Putin interfered in our elections should alarm us all," Sen. Bill Nelson tweeted. "Putin is a threat to our democracy and our upcoming election, that's a fact. The president's unwillingness to stand up to him and defend our nation is unacceptable and embarrassing."

"Today @RealDonaldTrump became an illegitimate president when he showed the world that his loyalty lies more with than the people of the United States," Miami Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson tweeted. 

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio did not directly criticize Trump but did say "Foreign policy must be based on reality, not hyperbole or wishful thinking."

Rubio was more specific during an Atlantic Council event.

"What the president said today is not accurate," the Florida Republican said, adding that "all I can speculate" is that Trump was trying to be nice to Putin to establish a better working relationship.

"The flaw is that Vladimir Putin is not interested in a better working relationship," Rubio said.

Miami Republicans Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen directly criticized Trump. 

"The President's comments in Helsinki were deeply alarming," Curbelo said in a statement. "Russia's meddling in the 2016 election is fact – and the recent indictment from Director Mueller and the evidence it outlines proves that. It is unacceptable that an American President not only stood there and said nothing while Vladmir Putin spewed fiction at that press conference, but also questioned the hard work and findings of American intelligence and law enforcement investigators. The U.S. relationship with Russia has deteriorated to its current state because of Russia's criminal interference in our elections, lack of respect for human rights, and invasive and militant actions against its neighbors and our allies around the world. Blaming it on anything else, is unacceptable."

"No, @POTUS. Mueller investigation on election manipulation by is not 'a disaster for our country,'" Ros-Lehtinen tweeted. "It is law enforcement doing work our country needs it to do. What has 'kept us apart' is failure to condemn Russia, lack of any sign that you’ll stop it from happening again." 

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart avoided directly criticizing Trump in his statement. 

"As our own intelligence experts and the House Intelligence Committee have asserted, Russia interfered in the United States' 2016 election just as it meddles in the elections of its neighbors," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "Throughout the world, Russia is often on the opposite side of U.S. interests in crucial areas such as Ukraine, Syria, and Iran. Under Putin's charge, Russia has become increasingly undemocratic, expelling pro-democracy NGOs from its territory, suppressing independent media, ignoring human rights, and manifesting a perilous environment for journalists. We must remember that Russia is not an ally of the United States, and that those responsible for attacks on our democratic institutions must be held accountable."

Shady oligarch’s firm paid Debbie Mucarsel-Powell's husband $700,000

IMG_debbie_murcarsel-pow_4_1_3M9KMIAC_L265070303 (3)

via The Daily Beast

The Daily Beast reports that the husband of Debbie Mucarsel-Powell has myriad connections to a shady Ukrainian oligarch. Read more below: 

Last fall, something funny happened in Washington: A pair of American lobbyists put on a fake congressional hearing in the basement of the Capitol, accusing a former Ukrainian central banker of odious corruption. A Ukrainian TV station broadcast the event there, claiming it was evidence that the United States Congress was investigating the accusations (they weren’t). The apparent sponsor of the hearing was a Ukrainian oligarch named Ihor Kolomoisky, whose bank was nationalized by the banker. Kolomoisky, who sicced his own private army on the Russians after they invaded eastern Ukraine, has been accused of sponsoring contract killings.

Now, there’s another apparent connection between the Kolomoisky and American politics. A number of businesses linked to the oligarch have hired the attorney Robert Powell, the husband of Democratic House of Representatives candidate Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Just one of those firms paid Powell at least $700,000 over two years, according to public records. Mucarsel-Powell is challenging Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in one of the most closely-watched congressional races in the country. 

Melvin Félix—a spokesperson for Mucarsel-Powell, who is challenging Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo for his seat in South Florida—said any criticism of her based on this reporting is absurd.

“Debbie is running for Congress because she believes change is urgently needed in South Florida,” he said. “She has spent her career expanding access to quality health care in our community, giving low-income students the opportunity to go to college and protecting our coast. The absurdity of Debbie being attacked over an indirect shareholder to her husband’s former employer, a job he no longer even holds, is exactly why people are tired of politics.”

Read more here

July 11, 2018

Curbelo rakes in $785,000 in latest fundraising quarter

Curbelo

@alextdaugherty

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo has ramped up his fundraising as he tries to keep his Miami-to-Key West seat in GOP hands come November. 

The two-term congressman raised approximately $785,000 in the latest fundraising quarter from April 1 to June 30, and has $2.6 million on hand to spend about four months out from Election Day. Curbelo's campaign said the quarterly haul is a record amount and he has about $500,000 more to spend than he did at this point in the 2016 election cycle, when he eventually defeated former Rep. Joe Garcia.

"Carlos continues to receive strong support from Americans across the political spectrum — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in South Florida and around the country — that believe his bipartisan approach is what we need to get things done in Washington," campaign manager Chris Miles said in a statement. "Carlos continues to successfully keep South Florida priorities at the forefront of the national agenda, and his work on bipartisan solutions to issues like jobs and the economy, immigration reform, disaster relief, trade, infrastructure, gun safety, and the environment is essential to healing our country’s toxic politics. He’s grateful for the growing support and looks forward to continuing his fight against the extremists in both parties that continue poisoning our nation’s politics for personal gain."

Curbelo faces a challenge from Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in a district that voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 16 percentage points, the largest margin of victory for Clinton in a congressional district held by a Republican running for reelection in 2018. Mucarsel-Powell's campaign has not released their fundraising haul in the latest quarter yet, which must be submitted to the Federal Election Commission by Sunday. 

Last quarter, Mucarsel-Powell nearly matched Curbelo in fundraising, though the incumbent still maintained an advantage in cash on hand. A host of Democratic challengers around the country have managed to outraise sitting GOP lawmakers in recent months, though Curbelo has consistently ranked among his party's top money raisers while in Congress. 

Outside groups will likely spend millions in Curbelo's district as they did in 2014 and 2016, though funds raised directly by candidates go further when it comes to securing advertising rates and building a ground operation ahead of Election Day. 

July 05, 2018

Trump sanctions top Nicaraguan officials for attacks on demonstrators

REP-GEN_NICARAGUA-PROTESTAS_DE_ESTUDIANTES-FOTOGALERIA_88937

@francoordonez

The Trump administration slapped sanctions Thursday on three top Nicaraguan officials - including an in-law of President Daniel Ortega — accusing them of human rights abuses, corruption and ordering attacks on peaceful protesters.

The sanctions come as Washington turns up the heat on Nicaragua, where more than 200 people have died in two months of anti-government protests.

"The United States will not stand by idly in the face of the abuses taking place in Nicaragua," a senior administration official said. "Rather we will expose and hold accountable those responsible for the Nicaraguan government’s ongoing violence and intimidation campaign against its people."

The U.S. Treasury Department is targeting three top officials for human rights abuses under the U.S. Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the executive branch to impose visa bans and targeted sanctions on individuals anywhere in the world responsible for committing human rights violations or engaging in corrupt activity.

The officials include Francisco Lopez, head of the private company ALBANISA, a joint venture between the Venezuelan state-owned oil company, PDVSA, and its Nicaraguan counterpart. They targeted Francisco Diaz, who leads the National Police and, critics charge, orchestrated the repression and killing of Nicaraguans. Diaz's daughter is married to Ortega's son.

They also targeted Fidel Antonio Moreno Briones, who the Trump administration said has directed attacks against demonstrators for years and is seen as the main link between the municipal government and the Sandinista National Liberation Front.

The sanctions means that that the targeted people don't have access to any property they have within U.S. Also, U.S. businesses or American individuals are prohibited from engaging in transactions with the sanctioned individuals.

"Under Francisco Javier Diaz Madriz’s command, Nicaragua's National Police has engaged in serious human rights abuse against the people of Nicaragua," Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman said. "Fidel Antonio Moreno Briones has directed acts of violence committed by the Sandinista Youth and pro-government armed groups which have been implicated in numerous human rights abuses related to the ongoing protests against the Nicaraguan government. Jose Francisco Lopez Centeno is the vice president of ALBANISA, the president of Petronic, and the treasurer of the ruling FSLN party and has been accused of leveraging his position to his and his family’s benefit by using companies they own to win government contracts."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fl., and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fl., quickly welcomed the sanctions against the Ortega regime.

"Time is running out for Ortega to address the current crisis by holding early, free & fair elections," Rubio tweeted.

"As so many Nicaraguans exercise their rights to free speech and assembly, the violence in Nicaragua continues unabated with almost 300 people killed at the hands of the Ortega regime," said Ros-Lehtinen, who has introduced a resolution urging the Trump administration to impose more sanctions. "Though the State Department has rightfully imposed visa restrictions to some of Ortega's puppets, this resolution empowers the administration to go further to identify and sanction those who have engaged in acts of oppression in accordance with our laws."

Read more here.

July 03, 2018

Internal Bruno Barreiro poll shows him down 14 points to Maria Elvira Salazar

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@alextdaugherty

Former Miami-Dade commissioner Bruno Barreiro faces an uphill climb in the Republican primary to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, according to internal polling by his campaign. 

A poll conducted by Magellan Strategies on behalf of Barreiro shows him trailing Miami broadcast journalist Maria Elvira Salazar by 14 percentage points. Salazar, who raised the most money in the field in recent months, received the support of 24 percent of likely GOP primary voters while Barreiro received 10 percent. No other Republican running received more than 1 percent support, and 64 percent of voters are undecided. 

Barreiro's poll unsurprisingly has him in a better position than an internal poll recently conducted by Salazar that shows her up 22 percentage points over Barreiro, though he trails by double digits in both. Salazar is also more well-known among voters than Barreiro, though a majority of voters either haven't heard of either or do not have a strong positive or negative opinion about either of them.  

The poll, which was conducted via interviews with 401 likely voters from June 11-12, has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points. 

Magellan's poll also asked GOP voters about the most important issues that need to be addressed by President Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress. Reducing the cost of healthcare ranked as the most important issue in a district with thousands of Obamacare recipients while addressing illegal immigration, an issue that the president could use as a wedge to motivate conservative voters in the midterms, ranked second. 

Whoever wins the Republican primary will face an uphill battle to keep Ros-Lehtinen's seat in GOP hands. Trump lost the district, which includes most of Miami Beach, downtown Miami and coastal South Dade, by more than 19 percentage points, the largest margin of victory for Clinton in the country in a GOP-held congressional district. Most of the national election prognosticators rate Ros-Lehtinen's seat as "lean Democratic." 

Barreiro's wife Zoraida lost a snap election for Bruno's old Miami-Dade commission seat last month, and Barriero donated $95,000 to his wife from his congressional campaign account for her unsuccessful race.