October 30, 2014

Cuba politics maze traps Joe Garcia, Carlos Curbelo


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.

October 29, 2014

Rothenberg Report says FL-26 race now tilting GOP


Ten days ago, the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report said Florida's 26th congressional district was no longer tilting in incumbent Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia's direction, and switched the race to "Pure Tossup."

On Wednesday, the report updates its ratings once again -- and further moved the odds in Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo's favor. Rothenberg, working with Roll Call, now lists the race as "Tossup/Tilts Republican" because the GOP and its allies plans to outspend Democrats and their allies in the final days of the race. (Read Rothenberg's reasoning here, though a subscription is required.)

Curbelo's campaign trumpeted the news as a sign the GOP has momentum to win back the Westchester-to-Key West district.

Rothenberg also shifted Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter's seat from "Favored Democratic" to "Safe Democrat." The other competitive Florida race, in the Panhandle between Republican Rep. Steve Southerland and Democrat Gwen Graham, remains "Pure Tossup."

UPDATED U.S. Chamber hits Joe Garcia over Obamacare support


A new television advertisement by the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce goes after Miami Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia for backing the Affordable Care Act.

"Despite promises, premiums are still going up," the ad says, calling Obamacare "a big-government disaster that Congressman Joe Garcia still supports today."

The chamber has endorsed Garcia's Republican opponent, Miami-Dade County school board member Carlos Curbelo.

UPDATE: Garcia spokesman Miguel Salazar called the ad misleading and noted the Chamber once backed the former Republican incumbent.

"The truth is that Rep. Garcia has voted multiple times to improve the Affordable Care Act and has worked with Republicans to protect the Medicare that seniors have earned," Salazar said in a statement. "This group backed David Rivera before, and now they're behind Curbelo -- which should tell South Floridians all they need to know."


October 28, 2014

Cuba talk unexpectedly dominates last debate in Miami congressional race


The hard-fought Miami campaign between U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia and challenger Carlos Curbelo had been noteworthy in part because of how rarely the candidates had brought up the issue of Cuba.

Until Tuesday, that is.

In a bonus, eighth debate a week after what had been billed as the seventh and final debate, the Republican Curbelo and Democrat Garcia spoke at length about what role, if any, Cuban politics should play in Miami politics.

The very discussion showed that, like it or not, the issue remains significant — at least in the waning days of a campaign, when the race remains close and candidates need to ensure that their strongest backers vote.

Triggering the conversation was a political advertisement Garcia debuted on Spanish-language television Monday starring a Cuban dissident.

More here.

Cuban dissident stars in Joe Garcia's latest ad


U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia of Miami has campaigned for another congressional term by focusing on bread-and-butter Democratic issues -- Medicare, Social Security, student loans -- and generally avoiding the topic of Cuba.

Yet the star of his latest political advertisement on Spanish-language television is a Cuban dissident.

Guillermo Fariñas staged more than 20 hunger strikes on the Communist island to force the release of political prisoners. He won the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Conscience in 2010 and has advocated for tough U.S. sanctions on Cuba until the island's Communist regime moves toward democracy.

"For decades, Joe Garcia has been a compatriot committed to our fight," Fariñas says in the ad, shot in front of downtown Miami's Freedom Tower.

His appearance prompted a rebuke not only from Garcia's Republican opponent, Carlos Curbelo, but also by other Miami Cuban Americans who questioned whether Fariñas -- who is back in Cuba after a recent Miami visit -- knew he'd be used in a U.S. political campaign. It appears to be the first time a Cuban dissident appears in a U.S. campaign ad.


Continue reading "Cuban dissident stars in Joe Garcia's latest ad" »

Joe Garcia, Carlos Curbelo slated to debate one more time Tuesday night


It will really be the final debate, both sides say, when U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia and challenger Carlos Curbelo face off for the eighth time Tuesday night.

Both campaigns have confirmed their attendance on A Fondo with Pedro Sevcec, which airs at 8 p.m. on WJAN-América TeVe, a Miami Spanish-language television station. The event was a late add-on to the two candidates' debate schedules; Curbelo had said yes to the invitation but Garcia had not, until late last week.

But while Garcia's campaign touted the lengthy list of debates in a news release Monday, Curbelo's campaign noted that Garcia had initially said he could make a Monday night appearance on Ahora with Oscar Haza, on WSBS-TV, known as Mega TV. Then the Democrat called it off shortly thereafter because he would be in the Florida Keys and unable to make it.

A spokesman for the Republican Curbelo called the backtracking "an act of cowardice and a slap in the face to Miami's Hispanic community" because Garcia initially agreed only to one Spanish-language debate. He later agreed to another.

Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott also agreed to only one Spanish-language debate out of three total against Democrat Charlie Crist. Scott's running mate, Lieutenant Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, agreed to none against Annette Taddeo, who specifically asked for an exchange in Spanish (in which she is more fluent than he is).

When asked a few weeks ago if the top of the GOP ticket should have accepted more debates, Curbelo said yes.

For election home stretch, Carlos Curbelo releases TV ad that makes no mention of Joe Garcia


Republican Carlos Curbelo released a new television ad a week before Election Day, and it's not an attack piece.

Sure, Curbelo bashes "politicians today" who have "made an economic mess." But he doesn't name his opponent, Miami Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia. Instead, the 30-second spot, titled "Driven," shows Curbelo -- a Miami-Dade County school board member, despite his jab at "politicians" -- in a classroom of young children. He tells the camera they motivate him.

"Politics doesn't drive me. They do," Curbelo says, pointing at the kids.

He goes on to point out that he is the son of exiles and notes that, "Rought out of college, I built my own business." Garcia has gone after Curbelo for refusing to disclose the clients of his company, Capitol Gains, which Curbelo founded and runs but is listed as being owned by his wife.


October 24, 2014

Cases against 2 former aides to Miami Rep. Joe Garcia remain unresolved


U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia fired his chief of staff last year for orchestrating an unlawful absentee-ballot request scheme in 2012. Jeffrey Garcia ended upserving 65 days in jail.

But the legal wrangling didn’t end with him.

Two more aides who prosecutors say helped submit hundreds of ballot requests online without voters’ permission still have pending cases with the Miami-Dade County state attorney’s office.

Prosecutors initially had two years to press misdemeanor charges against John Estes and Giancarlo Sopo. The statute of limitations was set to expire in July for Estes and this Sunday for Sopo. Had no charges been filed by then, the two men would have been in the clear.

Yet prosecutors now have a third year to make their case — because Estes’ and Sopo’s defense attorneys have agreed to a limitations-statute extension, in a bid to try to talk the prosecution out of charging their clients with anything. The defense has maintained the aides were unwitting participants duped by Jeffrey Garcia, no relation to the congressman.

More here.

Cook Political Report: Miami Rep. Joe Garcia one of 'most vulnerable Democrats'


South Florida voters used to competitive political races -- this is the nation's largest purple state, after all -- may not realize just how important the tossup congressional contest between U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia and Carlos Curbelo is nationally.

On Friday, 11 days before the election, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington D.C. released its analysis of vulnerable Democratic incumbents. And Garcia is on it.

The report notes that Garcia has attacked the Republican Curbelo for calling Social Security and Medicare a "Ponzi scheme" but doubts how effective that message has been, considering it did little to hurt the GOP in a 2010 Indiana campaign. It also mentions the criminal investigation that landed Garcia's former chief of staff in jail, and the fact that many voters who cast ballots in 2012 may sit out this year's midterms.

"Garcia is certainly one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the country," the report concludes.

Read it here (subscription required).

October 23, 2014

So much for that 'final' debate? Carlos Curbelo, Joe Garcia could face off again


Looks like the final debate held between Carlos Curbelo and U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia on Tuesday night may not have been so final after all.

The two camps say they have agreed to another debate next week -- except each side refers to a different debate.

Curbelo's spokesman, Wadi Gaitan, said both candidates were confirmed to appear at 8 p.m. Monday on Ahora with Oscar Haza, a Spanish-language program that airs on WSBS-TV, known as Mega TV. But Garcia's spokesman, Miguel Salazar, said the Democratic incumbent thought he could make the debate but won't be able to because he will be campaigning in the Florida Keys until late in the day. Producers are trying to land a new date, according to the station.

Meanwhile, Salazar said Garcia has agreed to face Curbelo at 8 p.m. Tuesday on A Fondo with Pedro Sevcec, which airs on WJAN-TV, known as América TeVe. Haza's and Sevcec's shows are local Spanish-language television rivals. Gaitan said the Republican challenger has yet to receive confirmation about Tuesday's debate; Curbelo long ago accepted the station's invitation but because Garcia hadn't, the event had been planned as a one-on-one interview.

The opponents have already participated in seven debates, with Curbelo, a Miami-Dade County school board member, repeatedly calling for more of them.