The Worst Congressional Comeback Attempt Ever?

Former Rep. David Rivera lost his House primary in Florida Tuesday after a campaign as unusual as the rest of his career.

When David Rivera first ran for the Florida state House in 2002, police reports allege that he intentionally ran his car into a truck that was delivering his opponent's flyers, which attacked Rivera's character. His explanation for ramming the truck off the busy Palmetto Expressway in Miami, minutes before that day's post office deadline? Rivera claimed he wanted to retrieve his own flyers, which he said were also on the truck.

In the 12 years since, Rivera's story has only gotten more bizarre.

Rivera, who served in Congress from 2011 to 2013, officially lost his hapless comeback bid Tuesday, falling short in the Republican primary election in Florida's 26th District. Miami-Dade County School Board member Carlos Curbelo won the nomination with about half of the primary vote, more than five times what Rivera got (in fourth place) after another roller coaster of a campaign.

It may have been the worst congressional comeback attempt of all time. Rivera lost the nomination, but he dominated the headlines. Throughout the race, he faced questions about his role in an alleged 2012 campaign finance scheme, sparred with the media, and even briefly suspended his campaign for unclear reasons—only to restart it just two weeks before the election. (Also, Rivera may have been campaigning during the "suspension.")

The latest chapter in Rivera's saga started in 2012, when The Miami Herald reported that, according to campaign vendors, Rivera had funded a Democratic candidate's campaign, hoping that political newcomer Justin Lamar Sternad would beat Democrat Joe Garcia in the primary and then lose to Rivera in the general election. According to The Herald's sources, Rivera organized and helped fund a sophisticated mail campaign for Sternad against Garcia—who won the Democratic primary and then beat Rivera in 2012 as the allegations troubled the Republican's campaign. Rivera had faced scrutiny (and narrowly avoided criminal charges) for misusing campaign funds earlier in his congressional term, but the "straw campaign" revelations brought his House career crashing down.

Sternad later pleaded guilty to campaign-finance violations and was eventually sentenced to seven months in prison. In the meantime, Ana Alliegro, a friend of Rivera's who managed Sternad's campaign despite being a Republican, fled to Nicaragua and was arrested there and sent back to the U.S. in March of this year.

It was against this backdrop that Rivera decided to make another run for Congress. It did not go well.


Less than two months after Alliegro was arrested, Rivera announced he would run for his old seat in Florida's 26th Congressional District. He declined to answer questions about the ongoing investigation—or anything else—when filing his paperwork, simply repeating, "You can email me" to an inquisitive Miami Herald reporter, who videotaped the encounter. Rivera said he would only answer questions in Spanish.


Just one month into the campaign, Rivera found himself in more legal trouble, which stemmed from his tenure as a member of the state House. A judge told the state ethics commission that Rivera improperly billed both his campaign and his government office for travel and failed to file complete personal financial disclosure forms. The report accused Rivera of breaking a Florida ethics law each year from 2005 to 2009.


After a little more than 10 weeks on the trail, Rivera suspended his campaign, saying he would run for the state House in 2016 instead. Strangely, he cited a court decision that came down the day before which said that two of the state's congressional districts had to be redrawn. The case did not result in any changes to Rivera's district.


Rivera suspended his congressional campaign, but some voters still reported getting robocalls from Rivera about the election. In one of the phone messages, Rivera said, in Spanish: "Your ballot to vote should have already arrived. And although the false campaign by The Miami Herald continues, I will keep fighting for our best interests. That's why I ask that you vote for a conservative fighter like me, David Rivera, for Congress."

It's unclear how much Rivera spent on the calls or how he paid for them. A report filed with the Federal Election Commission shows no money raised or spent by Rivera's campaign from July 1 to Aug. 6. Rivera's campaign also reported having just over $1,000 in the bank and nearly $14,000 in debt at the time the robocalls were in the field.

About a week after the robocalls surfaced—and two weeks out from Election Day—Rivera resumed campaigning. He participated in a televised debate with the other four GOP candidates, but asked to be patched in from an early-voting site, saying he would be campaigning nearby. The other candidates were unable to hear his answers to questions, and one of the debate's hosts later posted on Twitter that Rivera "did no campaigning" at the site.

Last week, Alliegro pleaded guilty in the campaign finance case, while Rivera was officially named a co-conspirator in the scheme. Even though Rivera won't be a member of Congress again anytime soon, don't expect his name to disappear from the headlines.