November 04, 2014

Carlos Curbelo greets string of Republican voters in Miami's West Kendall

@PatriciaMazzei

Carlos Curbelo greeted mostly Republican voters Tuesday afternoon at a West Kendall polling place where the sky was blue, the wind was blowing and people were arriving at a slow but consistent clip.

"This morning we have a little rush, but that's it," Curbelo said. 

He was the only candidate at John A. Ferguson Senior High School. A voter also named Carlos said today was his birthday. Curbelo pointed out that Nov. 4 -- Election Day -- is the Feast of St. Charles (San Carlos in Spanish) in the Roman Catholic church.

When the Republican congressional candidate, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia, introduced himself to another voter, the voter replied, in Spanish, "I know who you are. I've seen you on TV."

"Pórtate bien," Juan Carlos Esquivel, a 49-year-old Republican, joked before walking into the precinct. "Behave."

After voting, Esquivel said he favored Curbelo because he's someone "defined, who's not switching positions to and fro."

Later, Curbelo stretched out his hand to greet a third voter, who shook it before he realized who Curbelo was.

"Oh, Carlos Curbelo! Take my picture with him," the voter told his companion in Spanish.

"This bodes well," Curbelo said.

The man, 67-year-old Gustavo Cruz, a registered Republican, pledged his family's five votes for Curbelo.

"Forty-nine years ago I was imprisoned in a Cuban concentration camp, and Joe Garcia says, 'Communism works,'" Cruz said in an interview after casting his ballot. "Yes, it works to do harm. That man over there," he added, pointing at Curbelo, "I've never seen do harm."

The voter was referring to a sardonic remark Garcia made earlier this year in which he criticized excessive U.S. government spending on the Mexican border. But Cruz seemed to take the comment literally.

"He's a crook," he said of the congressman.

November 03, 2014

GOP leads Dems by 7K ballots in FL-26

@PatriciaMazzei

We haven't done day-to-day tracking of the early ballots cast by mail and in person in the tight race for Congressional District 26. But Monday's data from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties -- the district extends from Westchester to Key West -- shows Republicans have a lead over Democrats of almost 7,000 pre-Election Day ballots cast.

That's a margin of 7.5 percentage points -- larger than the GOP has going into Election Day in the Florida governor's race, for example. But far fewer people have cast ballots in the congressional race, only about 92,000 out of some 424,000 registered voters.

The question is whether that lead will be enough for Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo to oust Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia. More Democrats than Republicans cast in-person early ballots in the Miami-Dade portion fo the district, and more Democrats tend to vote on Election Day. But this is a midterm election, in which more Republicans typically go to the polls.

Here are the numbers:

PARTY AB %
REP       26,920 48%
DEM       18,050 32%
IND       10,908 20%
TOTAL       55,878  
     
PARTY  EV %
REP       13,463 37%
DEM       15,419 42%
IND        7,754 21%
TOTAL       36,636  
     
PARTY  EVAB  %
REP       40,383 44%
DEM       33,469 36%
IND       18,662 20%
TOTAL       92,514  

--with Marc Caputo

This post has been corrected. An earlier version mislabeled EV and AB votes in the chart.

Hillary Clinton machine: Don't release recording of robocall for Miami Rep. Joe Garcia

@PatriciaMazzei

President Barack Obama recorded a robocall for Miami Rep. Joe Garcia last week. Vice President Joe Biden came to stump for him Sunday.

Now likely Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has recorded a call for Garcia. It went out to targeted voters in Congressional District 26 on Monday morning.

But Garcia's campaign won't make the recording available to reporters -- because Clinton's people won't let them. That's according to Garcia campaign consultant John Hennelly.

So we can't tell you what the call said.

We can, however, point out that Clinton's people also kicked reporters out of the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables last month when she was there fundraising for Charlie Crist, Florida's Democratic nominee for governor. No reporters were allowed at a book-signing event the same day, and Clinton took only pre-screened questions at a speech to the real-estate industry.

Democrats like Crist and Garcia, running in tight races in the nation's largest swing state, want Democratic voters to see them with people like Clinton. It could turn out more of their base to cast ballots in Tuesday's midterms, which usually draw more Republican than Democratic voters.

But that's apparently not the Clinton way. And campaigns appear more interested in remaining in Clinton's good graces than using her endorsement to win their own races.

November 02, 2014

Joe Biden to Miami Hispanics: 'This is your election'

@PatriciaMazzei

IMG_3428 (1)Democrats welcomed Joe Biden -- or rather, José Biden, as he was introduced by U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia -- to Miami on Sunday as part of a final appeal to voters to go to the polls Sunday and cast their ballots for Garcia for Congress and Charlie Crist for governor.

The vice president held court, speaking at length in an appeal to Hispanics and the middle class. He received the most applause when he referred to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

"He says when asked about climate change, 'I'm not a scientist.' But he sure as hell thinks he's a doctor when he tells women what to do," Biden said.

The crowd was enthusiastic, though the 200 or so people did not fill the auditorium at Florida International University. The intended audience, though, were voters watching TV at home.

There weren't enough chairs to go around when the politicians walked on stage. So Biden, after initially sitting down, gave up his seat to Crist's wife, Carole. He joked with supporters behind him and played up the personal anecdotes when he took the microphone.

Hispanics, Biden said, could determine this and future national elections if they vote in proportion to the size of their population.

Continue reading "Joe Biden to Miami Hispanics: 'This is your election'" »

November 01, 2014

Obama records robocall for Miami Rep. Joe Garcia

@PatriciaMazzei

Stuck in a close reelection race, U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia has brought out the big Democratic guns to help.

Targeted Democratic voters in the 26th congressional district received an automated telephone recording Saturday asking them to vote for the congressman. The voice they heard? President Barack Obama's.

"I'm calling on behalf of Joe Garcia to remind you to vote early this election, because your vote matters, and the choice couldn't be clearer," Obama says. "Joe Garcia knows that Medicare and Social Security aren't schemes, they're promises we make to one another, they're commitments that make this country stronger, and he'll always fight to protect them."

Garcia's challenger, Republican Carlos Curbelo, who has campaigned with former Obama opponent Mitt Romney, has repeatedly tied the Democratic incumbent to the unpopular president.

"Although scandal-plagued Joe Garcia has spent the vast majority of his campaign distancing himself from President Obama, he is now praying that the President's last-minute call will help hid the fact that his campaign is under federal criminal investigation," read part of a statement released Saturday by Curbelo spokesman Wadi Gaitan.

On the campaign trail, Garcia has stressed that he's disagreed at times with Obama, and let him know about it.

But Garcia's campaign seems to be betting that the president is still popular enough -- at least among the party faithful -- to draw reticent midterm voters to the polls. The congressman plans to campaign Sunday with Vice President Joe Biden.

Listen to the robocall here.

This post has been updated with a quote from Gaitan's statement.

Joe Garcia, a Cuban dissident and details over a diabetes drug trial

@PatriciaMazzei

A Cuban dissident caught in a political frenzy over his appearance in a campaign commercial for Miami Rep. Joe Garcia praised the Democratic congressman in a series of interviews this week for listening to his views on the U.S. trade embargo.

Guillermo Fariñas said he was impressed last year when Garcia paid attention to, and later followed up with, the dissident over his opposition to selling Cuban prescription drugs in the U.S. -- a move Fariñas told several television stations could undermine the embargo, which he supports. So does Garcia.

Fariñas didn't go into detail, so it was difficult to know exactly what he and the congressman discussed. Was Fariñas suggesting Garcia backtracked on a push he made last year, first reported by the Miami Herald, to allow a Havana research institute to hold trials for a diabetes drug in the U.S.?

Garcia's campaign said the congressman maintains his support for the trial, which was approved on a limited basis. The Cuban drugmaker chose not to pursue it because the approval had not guarantee of future permission to sell any medication here.

The congressman had not sought that additional approval, but it was that broader issue he discussed with Fariñas, his campaign clarified -- not the drug trial itself.

UPDATED Carlos Curbelo blames 'glitch' for omitting or mislabeling $93K in campaign finance report

@PatriciaMazzei

Carlos Curbelo's congressional campaign omitted or mislabeled $93,000 in contributions from special interests in finance report last month because of what the Miami Republican called an unintentional software "glitch."

The campaign revealed the significant changes in an amended report filed this week -- nearly two weeks after submitting the original quarterly report to the Federal Election Commission.

The $93,000 came from 40 conservative political action committees. Curbelo's original Oct. 15 report listed $40,500 in PAC contributions. His Oct. 28 amended report bumped up that number to $133,500. 

As a result of the errors, Curbelo's total contributions were revised upward to $472,000 for the three-month reporting period, up from $420,000. His cash on hand went up to $555,000 from $505,000.

At first, it seemed that the entire $93,000 had been missing from Curbelo's report. His campaign explained Saturday that some of the contributions had been reported but mislabeled as coming from individuals.

Curbelo attributed the problems Friday to a software switch that didn't go well. His campaign moved to a higher-end program from a more basic one available to campaigns at no charge.

"In the conversion, there was a problem, and we had to re-file," he said, calling the incident a "data glitch."

Among the omitted contributions were $5,000 from firebrand and former Plantation Rep. Allen West's PAC. There were also omissions from far less controversial contributors, such as $2,000 from popular Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Among the mislabeled contributions were $5,000 from KochPAC, a group run by billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch.

Continue reading "UPDATED Carlos Curbelo blames 'glitch' for omitting or mislabeling $93K in campaign finance report" »

October 31, 2014

Outside money fuels Miami congressional race

@PatriciaMazzei

One of the most expensive congressional contests in Florida — with a price tag of nearly $14 million as of Friday — is being waged in Miami between U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia and opponent Carlos Curbelo. But neither candidate can claim to have spent the majority of that money.

That’s because the biggest spender has been a force outside their control: third-party political groups, which have poured about $8.5 million into the campaign.

Forget all politics being local. All politics have become national.

That momentous shift can benefit challengers like Curbelo, a Republican who has raised less money on his own than Garcia, the incumbent Democrat. Outside dollars have helped Curbelo keep up — yet he says that doesn’t make him entirely comfortable.

“On balance, I think that it’s unfortunate because you don’t control the message,” he said. “While I think people running for office appreciate any support they get, there must be a better way. The candidates are — and should be — the protagonists.”

More money has been spent in the 26th congressional district race this year than in 2012 and 2010 combined. Two years ago, the campaign between Garcia and then-Rep. David Rivera cost about $2.3 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Four years ago, when Republicans and Democrats battled for a rare open seat, the race cost about $5.8 million, at the time an eye-popping figure.

More here.

October 30, 2014

With little success, Cuban dissident tries to address controversial ad in Miami congressional race

@PatriciaMazzei

Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas tried -- rather unsuccessfully -- to address Thursday the controversy over the political commercial he taped for U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.

In repeated interviews, he refused to offer a play-by-play of how he ended up in Garcia's ad. He said only that it was an "error" to get in the middle of a rancorous campaign between the Democratic incumbent and Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo.

But Fariñas, who lives in Cuba, stood by his praise for Garcia, and seemed to add to it. He said in a Pinecrest fundraiser last year for President Barack Obama, Garcia tried to recruit Fariñas to support an effort to bring a Havana research institute's diabetes treatment to the U.S. Fariñas said no, he said, because he felt that would undermine the U.S. trade embargo toward the island, which the dissident supports.

A few days later, Fariñas said, Garcia telephoned him to tell him he had thought about their conversation and agreed with him -- an apparent indication that the congressman had a change of heart about the drug trial. It's unclear if Garcia really did stop pushing for the treatment in the U.S. He hasn't campaigned on the issue this year.

According to Fariñas, Garcia called him in the past two days to "apologize" over any trouble the campaign ad could bring the dissident. The Cuban government likes to find new excuses to crack down on its opponents, Fariñas acknowledged, without expressing regret over praising Garcia.

Beginning in an interview with el Nuevo Herald, Fariñas also said wealthy businessmen contacted him and other dissidents last year. "They tried to buy us off with several million dollars, and we refused," he said.

Cuba politics maze traps Joe Garcia, Carlos Curbelo

@PatriciaMazzei

They vowed to be different. They'd sound like a new generation of Miami politicians. They'd shift their focus away from foreign policy. They'd care more about the family down the street than the brothers in power 90 miles across the Florida Straits.

Yet the Cuba politics maze trapped them anyway.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia and Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo have spent the precious last few days of their congressional campaigns dissecting an unusual Spanish-language television advertisement by Garcia that stars a prominent Cuban dissident.

Curbelo and other Miami Cuban Americans have accused Garcia of using Guillermo Fariñas for personal political gain and violating an unwritten rule that shields opponents of the island's Communist regime from internal U.S. politics.

That rule is hardly hard-and-fast. As Florida governor, Republican Jeb Bush once sent a recording of support to a dissident in a Cuban political prison. President Barack Obama met with Fariñas and another opposition leader last year at a Democratic fundraiser in Pinecrest.

Garcia, though, appears to be the first politician to feature a dissident, speaking straight into the camera, in an ad.

More here.