POLITICS
08/30/2016 09:27 pm ET Updated Aug 30, 2016

Debbie Wasserman Schultz Hangs Onto Her Seat In Florida Primary

She defeated progressive law professor Tim Canova.
William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) won her primary Tuesday, a positive development for the congresswoman after a tumultuous past few months. 

Wasserman Schultz beat progressive law professor Tim Canova, who drew on the same anti-corporate momentum that fueled the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), earning him national attention and significant contributions from Sanders supporters. The political novice was even raising more money than Wasserman Schultz during the campaign.

With 98 percent of the votes counted, Wasserman Schultz had 57 percent, to Canova’s 43 percent, according to The Associated Press.

Not that long ago, even talking about a possible Wasserman Schultz defeat would have been outlandish. She ran the Democratic National Committee, held a safe blue seat and had never had a competitive primary.

But furor at Wasserman Schultz grew during the presidential primary as many progressives criticized her for seeming to tip the scales in favor of Hillary Clinton, and lingering frustrations over her management of the party spilled into the open. Canova campaigned against her as the “quintessential corporate machine politician.” In March, President Barack Obama endorsed Wasserman Schultz, an early indication that the congresswoman needed some help in retaining her seat. 

Wasserman Schultz resigned as DNC chair on the eve of the convention last month as Sanders supporters gathered in Philadelphia took to the streets and protested her. The catalyst was a leak of DNC staffers’ emails that seemed to show the party working to help get Clinton elected ― even though it was supposed to be neutral in the primary. The congresswoman wanted to keep her speaking spot at the convention, but ultimately, she was forced to give that up as well. 

Wasserman Schultz also faced outrage from progressives for co-sponsoring legislation to gut new rules put forward by the Obama administration intended to rein in predatory payday lending. The activist group Allied Progressive released an ad in Florida, hitting the DNC chair for teaming up with Republicans to defeat the policy. 

For Sanders supporters, the race became a fight against corporate interests and a way to eke out a victory after the senator’s loss in the Democratic presidential primary.

Yet despite this dissatisfaction, Canova’s candidacy lagged. Sanders sent out fundraising emails on his behalf, but he never went to Florida and campaigned in person.

“There are a lot of people who feel disappointed,” Canova told The Atlantic. “There are a lot of people in South Florida who wanted Bernie Sanders to come down.”

Clinton, meanwhile, paid a surprise visit to a Wasserman Schultz field office and praised the congresswoman when she was in Miami last month. She also won the district against Sanders by a landslide.

Being tied to Sanders could also have been a double-edged sword, as Canova told NBC News. 

“Bernie ran a lousy campaign in Florida,” he said. “Bernie had his problems with certain constituencies that I don’t have problems with.”

The 23rd district is heavily Democratic, and Wasserman Schultz is expected to win in November. 


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