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Democrats fight over Hillary Clinton backer who endorsed Miami Republican congressman

@PatriciaMazzei

Shortly after Democrat Annette Taddeo launched her campaign against Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Curbelo boasted he had snagged the endorsements of a slew of local Democrats. The list included Hispanic media consultant Freddy Balsera, who also happens to be raising money for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

That didn't seem to sit well with Taddeo's campaign: Someone in her circle asked the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington to make Clinton's campaign aware of Balsera's endorsement -- in what Balsera considers an attempt to sideline him from the high-profile 2016 presidential race.

The behind-the-scenes fight spilled over into the public realm last week when Balsera's firm organized a series of meetings in Miami for Lorella Praeli, Clinton's Hispanic outreach director, who was in town to introduce herself to local reporters and Democratic activists. The feud was first reported Sunday by Politico.

Balsera doesn't have an official role with the Clinton campaign -- at least, not yet -- but he's a Clinton supporter and surrogate speaker who worked on President Barack Obama's two races and sat on his national finance committees.

"The Taddeo campaign heard that Balsera may be doing some work with the Clinton campaign and -- this was months ago -- and asked the DCCC to raise the issue with the Clinton campaign," DCCC spokesman Matt Thornton told the Miami Herald.

Kelly Ward, the DCCC's executive director, "called and talked to somebody in the political department," Thornton added -- though not to Clinton's political director, Amanda Renteria, contradicting the Politico report. "The political department didn't even know who this guy was, and said thanks."

Balsera, who said he learned of the tiff from reporters over the past few days, lambasted Taddeo and said an attempt by her supporters to cast him aside reflects poorly on her own campaign.

"She's showing how selfish she is," he said. "It looks like her primary campaign isn't going very well.... All she should be thinking about is getting Hillary Clinton elected, and making sure that all the resources for Hillary -- including strong advocates for the party -- are available to the presidential campaign."

Taddeo's campaign manager, Shaun Daniels, distanced the campaign from the now-public brouhaha. "We have nothing negative to say about Freddy," Daniels said. "He's obviously a very involved activist in South Florida."

Balsera called Curbelo a longtime friend.

"I'm not in the habit of supporting Republicans, but in this particular case, he asked me and a lot of other Democrats to support him, and we did because we feel that he's been strong on issues like gay marriage and climate change," and immigration reform and the Dream Act, he said. That list includes trial attorney Ira Leesfield, who held a fundraiser for Clinton at his Coconut Grove home in May.

Balsera's firm has represented another, better known Republican: Donald Trump. Balsera said Trump is no longer one of his clients.

"My relationship with Trump was before he was a presidential candidate and before he made comments that I disagree with and that I find deplorable," Balsera said, citing Trump's controversial remarks about Mexican immigrants. 

Balsera and C.J. Gimenez, Balsera Communications' vice president and general counsel, used to represent some of Trump's business interests before local governments.

Gimenez is the son of Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. The elder Gimenez serves in a nonpartisan post, but he's a registered Republican who will be seeking reelection at the same time as Clinton is running -- and he's widely expected to be endorsing Republican Jeb Bush. Balsera Communications donated to Gimenez's last campaign, but Balsera said he will probably sit out next year's mayoral contest.

"I'm focused on the presidential race," he said. 

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