Congresswoman facing tough primary battle in South Florida district
BY AMY SHERMAN
AND PATRICIA MAZZEI
PHILADELPHIA – After quitting her national Democratic Party leadership role amid furor over thousands of leaked emails, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz now faces the political battle of her lifetime back home in South Florida.
Wasserman Schultz resigned as Democratic National Committee chairwoman Sunday, strengthening the hand of her primary opponent, Tim Canova — who saw a huge fundraising boost and national media attention following her decision.
While the Weston congresswoman spent Monday morning getting heckled by protesters in Philadelphia at her first public appearance since her resignation, Canova was in the district giving interviews to local TV stations, Univision and The Daily Beast — and meeting with constituents.
“I have not left the district in eight months,” Canova told the Miami Herald on Sunday. “That’s not going to change between now and Aug. 30. I don’t think there’s going to be a great need for me to go up to Philly and chase the spotlight. We’re making friends on the ground every day.”
On Friday, 22, the website Wikileaks published more than 19,000 DNC emails, some of them showing the party favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. It also showed that DNC staffers who were not working on Wasserman Schultz’s campaign were closely monitoring media coverage and campaign appearances of Canova, a first-time candidate and Nova Southeastern University professor.
Canova’s campaign is “seriously considering” filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, campaign manager Richard Bell said.
The emails show that the DNC tracked Canova’s news play and speaking engagements, including what is referred to as an “Alaska Counter Event” in the emails.
Canova, as well as Sanders’ wife, Jane, were scheduled to speak via Skype to Alaska Democrats on the same evening that Wasserman Schultz was going to speak to an Alaska Democratic event.
“This is all the FB post has so we need the state party to do some digging,” DNC communications director Luis Miranda wrote in one email.
Sanders endorsed Canova
Even before Wasserman Schultz’s tenure as chair came to its disastrous end, Canova drew national attention for his prolific fundraising, clever campaign tactics and endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Canova launched his campaign in January and has cultivated a broad following by echoing many of Sanders’ themes, such as a call for campaign finance reform.
He bashed Wasserman Schultz for taking money from big banks, siding with the payday lending industry and opposing a 2014 Florida constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana.
The dire Wasserman Schultz headlines has helped even more money pour in: nearly $100,000 since she resigned, Canova’s campaign said.
But the same question about Canova persists after Wasserman Schultz’s DNC resignation as it did before it: Can he parlay national attention into district votes on Election Day?
Primary next month
No public polls have been released gauging opinion in the Miami-Dade/Broward district. Canova’s campaign said it hasn’t conducted internal polls. Wasserman Schultz’s campaign has ignored questions about polling. Voting by mail begins this month in the Aug. 30 primary.
Longtime Democrats who have supported Wasserman Schultz said primary voters will make up their mind based on the “Debbie” they have seen and heard in their own backyard — not the one on the national stage.
“When you go into the heart of her congressional district and really all over South Florida people know Debbie and she is loved,” said Christian Ulvert, a Democratic campaign consultant who isn’t working for Wasserman Schultz but supports her.
“I don’t see a world where Debbie’s longtime constituents don’t stand with her again. When you go into Broward everybody is talking about Debbie, Debbie, Debbie.”
No debate thus far
The last time Wasserman Schultz faced a primary challenge was in 2004, when she first ran for the congressional seat after serving in the state Senate. Since then, she’s easily swatted away Republican challengers with little effort. In past elections, Democrats in the district have had no option but to vote for her.
Facing a primary this year, she’s stepped up her local appearances. She recently held a news conference to bash Canova, and a free barbecue at the Old Davie Schoolhouse.
So far, she has ignored Canova’s request for a debate.
“She’s been dodging debates for the past three months now,” Canova told Fox News on Monday, “and she can’t say, she is too busy, I think.”
Wasserman Schultz raised about $3.1 million through June while Canova raised about $2.3 million.
His campaign said Monday he has now raised more than $2.5 million.
Vice President Joe Biden will host a fundraiser for the congresswoman at the Cruz Building in Coconut Grove Aug. 5, said Fort Lauderdale lawyer Mike Moskowitz. A previous Biden fundraiser had been canceled due to the Orlando shooting.
There had been rumors for months long before the WikiLeaks that Wasserman Schultz would step aside as chair this year before Election Day. Those rumors subsided somewhat after President Barack Obama said he had her back while visiting Florida.
“This might have been a possibility before, but after the leaks it baked it into cake,” said Mitch Ceasar, a Florida superdelegate who serves on the executive board of the Democratic National Committee and chaired the Broward Democrats for about 20 years.
They’re with her
Democratic activists from Wasserman Schultz’s district passionately defended her in Philadelphia on Monday, telling every reporter who would listen that she has been a dependable workhorse. They cited her long roots working in the district including on behalf of the gay community.
Activist Elaine Geller of Hollywood, Fla., recalled Wasserman Schultz helped her family sign up for Obamacare when Geller’s daughter was diagnosed with leukemia.
“She’s just warm and loving,” Geller said, conceding that those personality traits might not be as obvious on the national stage. “I don’t think that maybe you can really translate that, how warm someone is.”
Canova, she added, also lives in Hollywood.
“I have never seen Tim. As a community activist, I’ve never met the man,” she said. “It’s one thing to stand up and give a speech. It’s another to really know the community – and he doesn’t.”