As we look toward the 2018 midterms, it’s interesting to note that the GOP has reportedly given up on Florida’s 27th District. 

The district is in the Miami-Dade area and is largely Cuban-American, including as it does “Little Havana.”  Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) has served this area when it was the 18th and now that it’s the 27th since 1989.

Though often hailed as the first Cuban-American elected to Congress, Ros-Lehtinen was also the first Latina elected to Congress (facts the GOP fails to note when attacked as racist and xenophobic). She is a moderate and a member of the Republican Main Street Partnership who signed a letter urging Congress to pass DACA by the end of last year.  A staunch supporter of Israel, she’s kept her distance from President Trump.

In April of last year, she announced that she would not be seeking reelection.  Republicans, or at least some of them, now see her seat as unwinnable by the GOP and are ready to pass on it in favor of sinking support into districts perceived as more winnable.

The Miami Herald reports:

The GOP’s inability to find top-shelf candidates to run for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s U.S. House seat has some Republicans ready to write off the race and shift money and attention to more winnable contests.

The seat that encompasses Little Havana, most of downtown Miami and Miami Beach is now considered unwinnable by some Republicans in Congress and fundraisers who could infuse millions into a competitive congressional race, according to interviews with high-ranking GOP officials and potential donors. Others are slightly more hopeful but caution that a Republican path to victory is narrow, especially in an environment where President Donald Trump’s approval ratings remain low and Republicans brace for a potential Democratic wave in 2018.

Keeping Ros-Lehtinen’s seat was always going to be a challenge for Republicans after the longtime Miami congresswoman announced her retirement in May. Republicans couldn’t draw top-tier recruits, such as Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera; one announced candidate made national news for claiming to have boarded a spaceship with aliens; fundraising has lagged; and one of the top GOP candidates recently left the race.

The concern for drawing a top-tier recruit is interesting.  Apart from the alien spaceship-boarding candidate, pretty much any Cuban-American Republican can win this seat.  Ros-Lehtinen herself doesn’t want to see it lost to a Democrat.

The Miami-Herald continues:

“The seat is now going to go to the Democrats,” said Raquel Regalado, a former Miami-Dade school board member and candidate for Miami-Dade mayor who recently announced she was dropping out of the Republican race to replace Ros-Lehtinen. “I think I was the only moderate who could have fought that fight for a bunch of different reasons. I don’t think you’re going to see a large GOP financial investment. They’re looking for a moderate candidate, but I don’t think they’re going to find one.”

Ros-Lehtinen, a political veteran who knows the Miami scene well, is doing her part to keep the seat in Republican hands.

“They have to spend in my district. I don’t want national groups to think it’s not winnable,” she said. “They’ve got to be all in. I will beat down their doors if they take my district and write it off.”

Ros-Lehtinen is talking to any Republican who might be willing to step up. She personally met with Spanish-language TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar at a Cuban restaurant in South Miami in an effort to drum up more competition in the primary.

“The district is totally winnable for the right candidate,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “She could be the right candidate.”

The outlook according to those in the know is grim for keeping Florida’s 27th in Republican hands.

The national prognosticators rate Ros-Lehtinen’s district as the hardest GOP-held seat to keep in 2018. It’s the only seat held by a Republican rated as “lean Democratic,” while about a dozen other GOP-held seats like Curbelo’s are rated as “toss-ups.” Republicans currently have a 46-seat House majority, so they can afford nearly two dozen losses in 2018 and still maintain control of the lower chamber.

And then there’s also the issue of any Republican in the district being tied to Trump, whose habit of politicking on social media at all hours causes Republicans to constantly scramble in reaction.

“Washington is in a sort of paralysis,” Regalado said. “When you’re talking to people about serious issues, they’re checking their Twitter feed. That’s the new normal.”

President Trump, however, is not the only nor perhaps even the most significant factor in this district or in Florida’s Cuban-American voting trends in general.

Cuban-Americans have historically been conservative and supported Republicans, and that was also of the case in 2016. Slightly more than half of Florida’s Cuban community voted for Trump (between 52 and 54% according to Pew) to Hillary’s 41%.

In 2012, Romney pulled the Florida Cuban-American vote with 52% to Obama’s 48%. Some are saying that Obama’s Cuba policy is why Hillary did so much worse than Obama, and that may have played a role.  However, Cuban-Americans are like everyone else who leans right and probably didn’t like her for a lot of reasons beyond her outspoken support for lifting the embargo on Cuba.

It’s worth noting here, that President Bush (43) won 75% of Florida’s Cuban-American vote in 2000 and 78% in 2004.

This huge shift between 2000 / 2004 and 2012 / 2016 makes predicting races like Florida’s 27th difficult because there is more going on here than Trump or Cuba. Older anti-communist Cubans are dying off, and K-12 education ensures a steady diet of progressive politics and culture. This seeps into Cuban-American communities just as it does in any other.

One thing is certain, the Cuban-American vote is waning, and has been before Trump, for Republicans and cannot be counted on as it once was.  That said, this seat should not be written off because it is winnable, but the GOP powers that be (quite understandably) don’t want to sink a lot of money into it with Trump’s numbers being so low and the vote far less than certain.

They need a strong conservative in that district, one who is Cuban-American and who can walk the line between Trumpophile and Trumpophobe. Ultimately, this is a very complex issue that involves far far more than Trump and that isn’t really measurable or predictable.

What is predictable, however, is that an easy Democrat win in this district will result in long-term harm for the GOP in terms of the Cuban-American vote.  Effectively handing off a solid GOP seat, held since 1989, to the Democrats in a district that includes “Little Havana” would be a massive mistake with lasting repercussions.


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