The Republican primary for a Miami state Senate seat — the first local partisan election since last November — has become a referendum on President Donald Trump.
Two self-described Trump loyalists — a former state senator with a taste for Twitter tussles and an attorney who loathes regulation — have channeled Trump in a hard-edged race against a rival who appears to be their polar opposite: A state representative beloved by Tallahassee Republicans with serious financial backing and a more complicated, and more personal, relationship to the president.
The attorney, Lorenzo Palomares, was the first to invoke Trump in the Senate District 40 race, noting his early support for Trump’s candidacy. But it’s the well-known former senator, Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who’s most prominently tried to position himself as Trump’s heir among Republicans with whom the president remains quite popular.
Then there’s Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the best-funded candidate in the race and a one-time contestant on Trump’s “The Apprentice” reality TV show. Soon after entering the campaign, he drew scorn from both the left and right after deleting from his Twitter account a photo of himself with Trump at an inauguration party, citing “aggressive trolling” from enemies. Diaz de la Portilla and Palomares pointed to the deletion as proof Diaz isn’t a true Trump supporter.
“He’s part of the establishment,” said Palomares, 63, who served as an unofficial Trump surrogate on Spanish-language TV. “He was one of the hundreds of Republicans that never supported Trump. It was only when he became president that they all jumped on the bandwagon.”
Palomares is divorced with two adult daughters and five grandchildren.
Diaz, 37, who is married with two young sons, has tried to distance himself from the hostility, pointing to his four House election victories over the past six years as a sign he could defeat a Democrat in the competitive Senate seat.
“I feel like I have a winning formula,” said Diaz, who represents part of the Senate district in House District 116 and works as a government law attorney. “If you look at my endorsements, the business groups, the conservative groups have endorsed me and not my opponents.”
The three Cuban Americans are vying to represent a largely Hispanic swath of Southwest Miami-Dade County in a special July 25 primary election, which was scheduled following the resignation of former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican who left office in April after using racial slurs in conversation with black lawmakers. The Miami Herald also revealed that he had hired a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model as political consultants.
Democrats, who hold only 15 of 40 state Senate seats, see an opportunity to seize back control of the district, which they lost last November when Artiles defeated former Sen. Dwight Bullard. The Democratic contenders are former Rep. Ana Rivas Logan and businesswoman Annette Taddeo; the general election will take place Sept. 26.
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