Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart's announcement on Thursday that he would not seek re-election this November set off one of the rarest games of musical chairs in American politics. Within minutes of Diaz-Balart's announcement, his brother, Mario, who represents a neighboring congressional district, issued a statement declaring his intention to run in his brother's seat this November, leaving his vacant and Democrats with a genuine opportunity to win it this November. The Democratic Party needs a candidate that can win in Florida's 25th congressional district -- his name is Joe Garcia.
Florida's 25th Congressional District is a product of gerrymandering by the Republican-controlled Florida legislature in 2002. It covers two media markets, Miami and Ft. Myers/Naples, begins in West Miami-Dade, runs west through the Florida Everglades into Collier County, and south covering Homestead and Florida City. It was designed by the state legislator who would eventually run for the seat, Mario Diaz-Balart, who carved himself a comfortable 10 percentage point Republican advantage among registered voters.
However, FL-25 is no longer the Republican bastion it once was. Today, Democrats outnumber Republicans in FL-25 (albeit, by a 600 vote margin). This is primarily a result of a large number of non-Cuban Hispanics, whom tend to be Democrats, moving into the district and generational differences within the Cuban American community. It is a majority Hispanic district, with 60% of the voters identifying themselves as Hispanics and half of them being Cuban Americans. The rest of the district is made up by Whites (29%) and Blacks (10%)
In 2008, President Obama narrowly lost to John McCain in FL-25 by less than a percentage point. However, at the time of the election, Republicans had a 3,000 voter registration advantage over Democrats in FL-25. As mentioned above, this is no longer the case. Moreover, survey research and past election results also shows that Independents in FL-25 tend to vote Democratic. This is all good news for Democrats who yearn for a victory in what should be a tough election year for them.
Joe Garcia is as ideal a candidate for Congress as Democrats can hope for in FL-25. He's a politically savvy Cuban American attorney from Miami with deep roots in the community and a long history of public service. Garcia, who is currently an official in the Department of Energy, ran for the seat in 2008 and proved to be a prolific fundraiser, hauling $1.8 million.
Despite being outspent by nearly $1 million by Mario Diaz-Balart, Garcia gave him the biggest scare of his political career, holding him to just 53% of the vote and earning 115,000 votes. Should Garcia decide to run for Congress again, he would be the clear Democratic front-runner for the seat.
Despite the conventional wisdom that 2010 will be a bad year nationally for Democrats, the race in FL-25 will be different for various reasons. First, the Republican primary contest will most likely be a bloody battle between David Rivera, a current state representative, and Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a state senator. Diaz de la Portilla has already called Rivera "a political hack" and promised him "an old fashioned ass whooping." Meanwhile, Garcia will almost certainly enjoy the Democratic field to himself and can concentrate on fundraising and reintroducing himself to voters while the Republicans fight a civil war.
Secondly, Democrats appear to have the wind at their backs in FL-25. Several unreleased polls have shown President Obama enjoying high approval ratings in the district. Those surveys also showed Mario Diaz-Balart with low re-elect ratings for an incumbent, 44%, which probably made his decision to switch over to his brother's seat much easier.
Garcia also has the core infrastructure to win. Since November 2008, he has kept in close contact with his key donors and many of his supporters. He has amassed an impressive e-mail list with over 100,000 contacts, with whom he communicates frequently, and has a strong presence on social media websites, such as Facebook, where he has thousands of fans. He would also have a smart veteran campaign team in place that would be ready to hit the ground running on day one should he decide to go for it.
All signs indicate Garcia is interested running for Congress again and that Washington is taking him very seriously. According to Politico, The White House and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) have been aggressively courting Garcia since news broke of Diaz-Balart's retirement on Thursday. It's now up to Garcia to decide whether he'll pull the trigger -- he should.