Retiring anti-Trump GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's Miami open seat should be a slam dunk for Democrats. After all, it voted for Hillary Clinton 59 percent to 39 percent. But this heavily Cuban-American district's politics are more complicated than those numbers would suggest, and Democrats now admit former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala is struggling against Emmy-winning former Univision journalist Maria Elvira Salazar.
This is simply a case of a bad candidate match up for Democrats: Shalala, 77, would be the second-oldest House freshman in history and suffered a stroke in 2015 shortly after becoming head of the Clinton Global Initiative. She's also seeking to represent a 76 percent Latino district despite not speaking Spanish. Meanwhile, Salazar is a well-known bilingual Univision/Telemundo reporter who has been savvy in attracting free media.
Some Democrats are still miffed that Shalala's late entrance pushed several well-funded Democrats out of the race, including promising Cuban-American state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez. Ultimately, Shalala won the August primary with a tepid 32 percent despite universal name ID (as the former president of the University of Miami, where she weathered numerous athletics scandals) and raising $1.9 million with the help of Clinton world.
Two GOP-sponsored polls in the past several weeks have shown Salazar leading by single digits. Democrats believe the race is tied and that Trump's rampant unpopularity in the district will ultimately tilt the scales to Shalala. But Democrats are now on the verge of frittering away what was once considered their easiest pickup of the cycle. In a stunning turn, this race moves from Lean Democratic to the Toss Up column.
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