Florida GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's retirement, first reported by the Miami Herald, vaults her Miami district to the very top of Democrats' takeover list. Over 27 years in the House, Ros-Lehtinen's reputation as firmly anti-Castro but strongly pro-gay rights made her highly popular back home, even as FL-27 trended away from the national GOP. Now Democrats will be favored to win the district, where President Trump lost by 20 points.
The "new" Miami electorate - younger Cubans, non-Cuban Hispanics, and socially liberal whites living in and around Miami Beach - is moving away from the national GOP at warp speed. No other GOP-held seat voted for Hillary Clinton by a larger margin. Ros-Lehtinen insists those changing dynamics didn't prompt her retirement, but she was held to just 55 percent last November, her lowest margin in decades.
Little Havana and its surroundings are historically GOP, and despite FL-27's cultural trend to the left, Republicans still have a stronger bench of local officeholders than Democrats. Republicans' dream candidate might be Miami School Board member Raquel Regalado, a social moderate in Ros-Lehtinen's mold who lost a non-partisan bid for county mayor last year. Regalado's father, city of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, pointedly refused to endorse Trump last year.
There are other Republicans with deep ties in the Cuban community who could mount competitive campaigns, including Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, state Rep. Jeanette Núñez, state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, state Sen. Anitere Flores, state Sen. Rene Garcia, and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro. But Trump's unpopularity could make a few longtime aspirants for this seat think twice about running in 2018.
On the Democratic side, 2016 nominee and beverage bottling businessman Scott Fuhrman never stopped running after his narrower-than-expected loss, but Democrats are eager for a candidate with a stronger resume. Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez entered the race in April and had drawn the interest of the DCCC, and state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and state Rep. David Richardson say they will take a look.
In light of the national climate, FL-27 moves to the Lean Democratic column. The question for Republicans is whether this is the start of a larger wave of retirements from seasoned GOP moderates, just as a wave of Blue Dog Democrats found 2010 a convenient year to retire. If others like Reps. Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02) or Dave Reichert (WA-08) were to follow suit, Democrats' seat-by-seat path to the majority could start looking more realistic.
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