By Mark Silva | Baltimore Sun
President Bush is bound for Florida today to do what he does best: Raise money.
For someone in need.
He will be raising it this afternoon for two of the three South Florida Cuban-American congressmen who face serious challenges from Democratic rivals this fall. At least one of them, the incumbent whose rival was never indicted, faces a serious contest. (Although, in Florida, the indicted should never be counted out of political contests.)
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is the junior member of a Cuban-American trio in Congress from Miami. The former chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee was first elected to Congress in 2002. His older brother, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, also a former state legislator, first went to Congress in 1992.
Bush will attend a fundraiser for the brothers Diaz-Balart today. Mario, the younger, faces a tough Democratic rival. Lincoln, the elder, faces a once-indicted mayor.
These have been exceptionally safe seats ever since Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, another Republican Cuban-American and the first Hispanic woman to win a seat in the state Legislature, claimed the vacated congressional seat of the late, legendary Rep. Claude Pepper of Miami in 1989.
But this year, Joe Garcia, a Democratic Cuban-American, former executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami—the organization of the late power-broker in the Miami Cuban exile community, Jorge Mas Canosa—and former member of the state commission that regulates utilities in Florida, is taking on Mario Diaz-Balart. (Garcia’s campaign video is featured in the Baltimore Sun link above.)
Garcia, who also has been involved in national politics with the New Democrat Network and Sen. John Kerry’s campaign, represents a younger generation of Democrats in a community that has long been known for its Republican solidarity.
The fundraiser will not be held in Miami, but rather in Naples.
The 25th Congressional District which Mario Diaz-Balart represents is a marvel of modern-day Gerrymandering, created by a GOP-run Legislature with map-drawing skills which ensured that Florida’s congressional delegation would become overwhelmingly Republican. The district covers much of the southern tip of the state - alligators mainly—and reaches from Miami on the Atlantic Coast to Naples on the Gulf Coast.
And Naples is where the money is.
Bush is greeting some ready friends today. The Diaz-Balarts have joined the president in supporting a lifting of the ban on off-shore oil-drilling in Florida. Ros-Lehtinen has not, remaining adamantly opposed to any drilling.
Ros-Lehtinen, extraordinarily popular, faces only nominal opposition.
Two of Florida’s 25 congressmen are unopposed this year—Democrats Kendrick Meek of Miami and Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, both African-Americans in solidly Democratic districts, another byproduct of the GOP’s Gerrymandering.
Lincoln Diaz-Balart faces a challenge from Democrat Raul Martinez, who served for 24 years as the mayor of Hialeah and has survived federal indictments and convictions.
Martinez, in fact, wanted to run against Ros-Lehtinen after the death of Pepper. But Lehtinen’s husband, then-acting U.S. attorney for South Florida, Dexter Lehtinen, launched an investigation against Martinez that resulted in a Grand Jury indicting Martinez on eight charges of extortion and racketeering.
Martinez was suspended from office and convicted, in July 1991, of six counts of conspiracy, extortion and racketeering and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He appealed and won a new trial. The second trial ended in a hung jury. A third trial, in 1996, won him an acquittal. He went on to serve as mayor until 2005.
If the voters of Hialeah were willng to reelect the indicted Martinez, there’s no telling what the voters of Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s congressional district might do.
(Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Democrat from Broward County, won election to Congress after impeachment and removal from the federal bench by Congress. He faces nominal opposition for reelection this fall.)
Yet, for whatever promise the indicted hold in Florida elections, bets are that most of Bush’s money will be going to Mario D-B, the one with an opponent without a rap sheet .
The older Diaz-Balart, defending his long-held seat against an indicted but exonerated Democrat, should not have to worry as much. It’s probably the younger Diaz-Balart, facing a Democrat with more potential in November, who is bringing in the president for a fundraiser. Or maybe it’s their flip on off-shore oil-drilling.
Bush, in the state where his younger brother, Jeb, reigned for two terms as governor, knows how to raise the funds..