Playing to Florida's Cuban-American Vote

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This district had been held by Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, who resigned from this seat to run for his brother Lincoln's district after Lincoln announced his retirement earlier this year. Mario calculated that Lincoln's seat was much safer for him, a move largely justified by Democrat Joe Garcia's showing against Mario in 2008--Mario's toughest race to date.

Race of the Day Four years ago, Republicans had over a 20,000 voter registration advantage in FL-25, Mario's old district. This year, Democrats actually held a slight registration advantage. This is largely due to an influx of non-Cuban Hispanics and a younger generation of Cuban Americans who are less likely to vote as their parents have done (for Republicans) and are more open to Democrats.

This race seems to have all the makings of a doozy.

The Democratic candidate is the aforementioned Garcia. Outspent in 2008, Garcia narrowly lost to Diaz-Balart by 7 percent. And though President Obama appointed Garcia to an Energy Department post, it was this strong 2008 showing that had national Democrats urging Garcia to run for this seat. The DCCC added Garcia to its "Red to Blue" program, which supports candidates who can potentially flip seats occupied by Republicans.

The Republican candidate is State Representative David Rivera. A close friend, confidante, and associate of Marco Rubio's, Rivera will be dogged during the general election by character attacks from his primary opponents, who asked such questions as: What was the nature of Rivera's investment in a foreclosed property that he co-owned with Rubio? Did Rivera run a driver with campaign materials for one of his opponents off the road? Was he named in an alleged domestic disturbance suit? And what was his involvement with Ariel Pereda, a Miami businessman infamous for engaging in business with Cuba?

Observers wondered if Garcia and Rivera would bring issues concerning Cuba to the fore of their campaigns, possibly overshadowing their district's concerns with the economy. This question has been resolved. Garcia supports the Obama Administration's approach on Cuba; Rivera went on Spanish radio and essentially called Garcia a "fidelista" and an "esbirro" (henchman). These words, which amount to slurs in the Cuban community, were intended to implicate Garcia in the Castro regime. Rivera has tried to frame this issue by noting that those who favor liberation, like the Diaz-Balart brothers and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, support him.

Garcia, well-funded himself, has introduced a set of 25 ideas to revitalize the district's economy. In order to win, though, he may have to take the advice of national Democrats and attack Rivera, making him unpalatable to the district's voters.

Simply put: this district is trending in favor of Democrats and Garcia. But Rivera, in an off-year election in which the GOP is enthused and conservative Cubans will turn out in droves to vote for Rubio, still has the advantage on paper. If old trends hold true, Rivera may squeak out a victory. If future trends manifest themselves in November, Garcia may win this race and potentially be a national bright spot for Democrats in an election year where few seem possible. 

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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