09/29/2008 05:57 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In Florida, A Congressional Candidate's Debate Watching Party Breaks Both Blue And Red

Florida -- the Rules Are Different Here. That may have been how tourism officials chose to market our state way back in '86, but things haven't changed much, especially in politics. We still have folks like former Representative Mark Foley recently escaping criminal charges (congressional privilege sure must be nice) and Governor "Chain Gang" Charlie Crist, who restored felons' right to vote only to enact the just-passed "no-match, no-vote law," which stands to disenfranchise many of the very same people whose rights he helped to restore.

And if the rules are different in Florida, they're even more so in Miami-Dade County, where incumbent Republican Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart (a former Democrat) is being seriously challenged by former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, whose last attempt at a congressional seat was thwarted when the husband (then Acting Attorney General Dexter Lehtinen) of the wife (now Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) he was challenging prosecuted him for a series of charges which later would be dropped. (As everyone down here knows, the AG himself ended-up having to resign and Martinez came back to Hialeah for a resounding reelection.)

Noting Floridians' penchant for strange bedfellows then, it's no surprise that the Friday night Obama/McCain debate watch party hosted by Democratic congressional candidate Joe Garcia would include more than a few Republicans. Garcia, the former head of the once stalwart red Cuban American National Foundation as well as the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, has always enjoyed more than a smattering of bi-partisan support, so it was only natural that the gathering would combine members of both parties.

What was a little surprising, however, was the appearance at the party of Judy Woodruff and her crew. I mean, a Cuban restaurant in Kendall's Town and Country Mall is surely a long way from the thick of things, no?

Actually, it isn't. Not when one takes into account the importance of Florida in the coming presidential election. See, the urban and coastal parts of the state will undoubtedly swing Democrat, just as the rural and panhandle sections will most certainly tilt Republican, which leaves the sprawl between both up for contention. In other words, if there's a battleground, it's out in the 'burbs.

Woodruff, who's been on the national political beat since Carter was in office and last year returned to The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, is without question one of our country's most astute observers, so it stands to good reason that she knows full well where best to observe a debate. Unfortunately, the senior correspondent's many duties preclude her from commenting on anything until all of her work is finished, so you'll have to catch her coverage to see what she thought.

But you don't have to tune in to any boob tube to see that Joe Garcia is part of the new generation of leaders who can appeal to an increasingly large cross-section of voters. In fact, some might say, as Joe goes, so goes South Florida. His District (25), more and more consists of Latin Americans of the non-Cuban variety, and the majority of the Cubans who do reside there either are second or third generation, or they came to America during the '80s and '90s and have decidedly different viewpoints from their staunch Republican forefathers.

More importantly, says Jeremy Caverly, the paid-consultant for Joe Garcia who organized the debate watching party, "the incumbent doesn't care about the issues the people of this district are concerned with. In fact, he cares only about one thing, and that's Cuba." And Garcia, of course, is one of the first to call for an end to the sanctions that have been in place against that country for close to fifty years.

Caverly, who grew up on Florida's West Coast and now resides in DC, sees more and more Republican support for Garcia, especially among "the economic-minded Republicans." "[Diaz-Balart] has passed one bill in six years," he continued, "and it had nothing to do with the economy."

Yet, if the applause at the party during the debate was any indication, some of Garcia's supporters do still err on the side of McCain, which might have caused some small discomfort among the Democrats in the room, but surely is an indication of Garcia's cross-aisle formidability.

Still that begs the question of Woodruff. According to Garcia deputy press secretary Andy Diaz, Woodruff's people were the ones to propose doing a remote from the camp's debate watch party. So either dear Judy had a hankering for Cuban food in a pretty out of the way location, or she's on to a trend that thus far has yet to truly be explored: the party-blinding of America.

Are Garcia's people planning further debate watch parties? Indeed. Will the room continue to include both red and blue? Undoubtedly. And maybe, just maybe, as goes Joe Garcia, so will go the nation.