MIAMI ― Donald Trump’s attempted coup may have driven away just enough Hispanic voters wary about autocracy in South Florida to give Democrats one bright spot on a state congressional map aggressively gerrymandered to favor Republicans.
House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy’s super PAC has announced it will spend $2 million to help first-term Republican Rep. Maria Salazar hang on to her seat. The Cook Political Report moved its rating for the district from “likely” Republican to “lean” Republican.
“I guess they’ve been seeing some polling,” Democratic state Sen. Annette Taddeo told a group of 100 volunteers gathered at her Coral Gables headquarters this week to prepare to knock on doors and make get-out-the-vote phone calls. “Kevin McCarthy knows that if he wants to get the gavel, he’s got to keep this seat.”
Salazar’s campaign said she had “delivered over $17 million” in projects for her district and that her long career in television news in Miami gives voters confidence in “her commitment to them.”
“That’s why she defeated an entrenched Democrat incumbent in 2020 and it’s why Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar will win re-election in November by defeating another socialist career politician,” her press office said in a statement.
Her campaign, however, would not address HuffPost’s query regarding her view of the former president’s actions leading up to and on Jan. 6, 2021. And, in fact, Salazar voted against President Joe Biden’s legislation that contained the projects she is now taking credit for.
Taddeo’s campaign is sharing in internal poll that shows a tied race. “We can win, and we can save democracy in the process,” she said, standing atop a desk between U.S. and Florida flags, with the flag of her native Colombia affixed to a wall behind her.
The seat, representing Florida’s 27th Congressional District, had long been held by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican in a district that tended to vote for the Democratic presidential nominee. That made it a frequent target for Democrats, who finally succeeded in 2018, a blue wave year for House Democrats in the first national election since Trump took office in 2017.
“We can win, and we can save democracy in the process.”
But in 2020, Donna Shalala, a former Cabinet secretary under President Bill Clinton and then the president of the University of Miami, lost by 3 percentage points to Salazar, a television newscaster who loudly backed Trump, even as Trump himself lost the district by 3 points to Joe Biden.
Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, who largely drew the state’s new congressional map after vetoing a more moderate version drawn by Republicans in the state legislature, shored up Salazar’s seat slightly by removing Democrat-rich Miami Beach from the district and adding more Hispanics in and around Little Havana. Under the new lines, the district would have voted for Trump over Biden by half a percentage point.
That presidential vote in 2020, though, took place before the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol that Trump incited as part of his attempt to remain in power despite having lost the election to Biden. And that action, according to Taddeo and her supporters, turned off many residents who had fled and whose families had fled authoritarian regimes in Latin America, including Cuba.
Her campaign shows results from an internal poll finding that Trump now suffers from a 40-54 favorable-to-unfavorable ratio in the district, with 48% viewing him “very” unfavorably. Biden, in contrast, has a 49-45 favorable-to-unfavorable ratio, with only 37% seeing him “very” unfavorably.
Carolina Camps, president of Cuban American Women Supporting Democracy, started the group during the coronavirus pandemic but saw membership grow rapidly after the Capitol riot, she said, when Cuban and other Hispanic voters saw Trump ― who had won Florida by accusing Biden of being a “socialist” ― refuse to accept his election defeat. “We know what autocracy is, and that’s where we’re heading,” Camps said.
Republicans dismiss that analysis, arguing that it is entirely logical for McCarthy to spend money on incumbents in seats with tight margins.
“The first rule of fight club is to make sure your fighters return,” said a top GOP consultant in Florida who spoke on condition of anonymity, who doubted that Salazar is in any danger of losing, given the favorable political environment for Republicans.
Another consultant familiar with the spending from McCarthy’s Congressional Leadership Fund, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that if ties to Trump and Jan. 6 were actually moving voters, Democrats would be including that in their ads ― and they are not.
But Taddeo, whose current state Senate district includes much of the newly drawn congressional district, said the images from that day still resonate with families such as hers who fled oppression. “We’ve seen those images on the TV, but we thought we’d never seen it in the United States,” she said.