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Rep. Rivera had tough time against 'ringer' - even after she quit

Talk about a close call.

Heading into Election Day, with Democrats looking as if they'd ride Barack Obama's coat-tails in South Florida, a suspected ringer who switched her party affiliation from Republican to Democrat to "run" against Miami Republican Rep. David Rivera pulled the plug on her own campaign within 24 hours before Election Day.

Even though voters were provided with a notice of Beatriz "Betty'' Gaffney's withdrawal, it wasn't enough to keep the 30-year-old political unknown from winning the Broward County portion of HD 112 by 4,424 votes. In Collier County, she came within 496 votes of beating Rivera, according to the Collier supervisor of elections office. But in Miami-Dade, Rivera won by 9,901, according to the supervisor's office.

Rivera's net victory margin: 5,973, giving him a 55-45 percent win against someone who raised just $2,600 (in loans from herself), who doesn't return reporters' phone calls and who didn't seem to have had a campaign event, much less a flier, sign or ad.

Rivera's House campaign alone raised $209,595.54.

So who is Gaffney? "I don't know who that woman is," Rivera said just after she withdrew. Gaffney never returned calls to the Miami Herald.

Rivera's political pal, Tallahassee political consultant Bill Helmich, filed her paperwork for "a client" he wouldn't name. The Sun-Sentinel reported that, in addition to having worked in 2000 for the Bush-Cheney campaign, she's studying politics at Florida International University, Rivera's alma mater with which he maintains close ties (but then, lots of people go to FIU).Two political consultants in Miami-Dade say she's also buddies with Esther Nuhfer, a Rivera consultant/associate who practically lived in his office last legislative session.

When asked if she were friends with or knew Beatriz Gaffney, Nuhfer said: "Beatriz Gaffney? Who’s Beatriz Gaffney? I’ve never heard of her."

Q: You don’t know who Rivera’s opponent was?

Nuhfer: "Oh. Betty Gaffney? I don’t know anything about her."

Strange. This election cycle, Rivera's campaign paid Nuhfer's company, Communication Solution, $24,500 for consulting. His two political committees, Future Leadership Committee and Future Leadership Organization, paid her a combined $37,400.

The Florida Democratic Party's lawyer, Mark Herron, said he thought Gaffney's candidacy was fake from the start. After all, her voter registration switch from Republican to Democrat was recorded on June 23 - three days after Helmich submitted her paperwork to run as a Democrat on June 20, the last day to qualify. Turns out, she had actually switched her registration three days before.

Herron said he planned to sue at the time, but since he couldn't prove she wasn't a Democrat, he didn't challenge her on the ballot. She went on to beat Juan Espinosa, 24-year-old 4'2" Spanish-language entertainer on América TeVé's adult-themed La Cosa Nostra show.

"My sense that she was a ringer is that she wasn’t a Democrat. She wasn’t really using her real name. And no one from the party knew who she was," Herron said. "What happened right before the election proved me right."

When Gaffney's withdrawal notice (dated Oct. 29) was received by the Florida Secretary of State's office Nov. 3 (24 hours before Election Day), the office contacted Herron at 10:28 a.m. and told him there was no time to find a replacement candidate.

Miami-Dade political consultant David Custin, who has bumped heads with Rivera in the past, said he "in my sixteen-year political career, I've never seen an elected official or candidate qualify their own opponent, then rig the outcome by having the opponent withdraw the day before the election, thus disenfranchising an entire district's electorate.  David Rivera is the first I've seen use this technique."

FIU pollster and political science prof Dario Moreno said he didn't know Gaffney nor was he following the situation. But he found some humor in it.

“It sounds strange. What was even stranger, is she beat some entertainer to get to this position," Moreno said. "I was following the congressional races, and I don’t have time to focus on David’s machinations. Where does he come up with this stuff?”

Update; from Rivera via email: "Was this published by the Miami Herald or the National Enquirer?  You've hit a new low.  Dragging Nuhfer into it was particularly crass. I can understand Custin and company being classless enough to go after a defenseless woman, but I expect more from you.  Another example of why I won't cooperate with blogs."