PLANTATION, Fla.—A Senate run isn't happening. But Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz's state is still proving a useful base as she aims to be a valuable surrogate, rather than one of the main events on the Democratic ticket, in Florida next year.
Not only will Florida continue to be an important swing state in 2016, the congresswoman and Democratic National Committee chair—who told CNN Tuesday that she won't run for Senate in 2016—has a long history with two potential GOP presidential nominees from the state. Wasserman Schultz says she's in a unique position to attack Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, with whom she served in state government, as they prepare runs for the White House.
"I have a better than normal amount of experience with at least two of the candidates who are discussing, thinking about running for president," Wasserman Schultz said in an interview in her district earlier this week. "I ... look forward to being able to make sure that voters understand exactly what Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush stand for, because they have been and will continue to try to portray themselves as far different than the unfortunate choices they've made that have harmed their constituents."
Wasserman Schultz was a state legislator in Tallahassee from 1992 through 2004, overlapping with both Bush (who was governor from 1999 to 2007) and Rubio, who was first elected to the state House just as Wasserman Schultz moved to the state Senate in 2000. Most recently, of course, she and Rubio have served together in Congress, where Wasserman Schultz has gained influence but also enemies while rising up the Democratic ranks.
She said she plans to remain in her post as chair of the Democratic National Committee until the presidential election is over and her term expires in January 2017. And she'll be running for reelection in her South Florida district, just a short drive from Bush's and Rubio's Miami-area homes.
"I think I can have the most impact by remaining in these two important jobs," she told CNN.
Some have suggested that running for Senate would have been the logical next step for Wasserman Schultz, given that House Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer show no signs of pending retirement and that she's reportedly at odds with some party leaders. She denied any internal tension, saying, "There's one particular newspaper that likes to talk about that."
But a Senate bid may also have been very difficult. A recent Mason-Dixon poll in Florida showed that three-quarters of the state knows of Wasserman Schultz, partly because of her frequent appearances on TV and in other media serving as a principal Democratic spokeswoman. But nearly twice as many people viewed Wasserman Schultz negatively as positively, a possible byproduct of her aggressive attacking style against Republican politicians.
That's left Wasserman Schultz eager to own that space, as a Democratic surrogate in a presidential election that could feature a local Republican nominee. Last week, she published a searing anti-Bush op-ed in New Hampshire's Concord Monitor, writing to first-in-the-nation primary voters: "I happen to be quite familiar with Jeb Bush. "... I can tell you that during his time as governor, Jeb Bush never fought for Florida's middle-class families—and he isn't about to start fighting for New Hampshire's middle-class families now."
Familiarity with Bush and Rubio has bred contempt on a number of issues, from education to health care to taxation. Wasserman Schultz said Bush's tax cuts as governor worsened the Great Recession in Florida by compromising the tax base there.
And she is eagerly protecting presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton from attack, too. Wasserman Schultz said Bush's own use of personal email as governor made him "an example of people in glass houses. It's totally unacceptable for somebody like Jeb Bush to be critical toward the secretary's email practices."
When asked if Bush had ever emailed her via his personal email, she responded: "Ha! No. Jeb Bush was not someone who was in the habit of communicating with people with whom he disagreed."
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Zach Cohen is a web producer for National Journal Hotline. Before joining National Journal in 2014, he interned at The Washington Post, Time Magazine, USA Today and PBS MediaShift and wrote about politics and government for New Voices. Zach was born and raised in New Jersey and got his bachelor's degree in international relations from American University, where he served as editor-in-chief of The Eagle, the school newspaper.