House Speaker Paul Ryan engaged Wednesday on the most quintessential of Miami political traditions: He sipped cafecito at Islas Canarias, a Cuban restaurant.
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But unlike the carefully choreographed visits of most candidates, Ryan’s didn’t include a pack of TV cameras and news photographers chasing him. In two other events, both for endangered Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Ryan refused to take questions. When reporters shouted some at him anyway, he walked away.
This is the Donald Trump effect in Florida’s tightest race for Congress.
Ryan has distanced himself so much from Trump that he’s explicitly said he’s no longer going to defend him. Curbelo has said he’s not voting for his party’s nominee. Together, the two lawmakers hoped to avoid having Curbelo’s big campaign day turn into all about Trump.
“Forget about what you see in Twitter or on TV,” Ryan told Curbelo’s young volunteers as he held up a pamphlet for his policy plan, “A Better Way.” “Believe it or not, we have ideas. We have solutions.”
The speaker said nothing new in his two events for Curbelo: a visit to Caribbean Elementary School near Cutler Bay to talk about making test requirements easier for students learning English, and a stop at Curbelo’s Southwest Miami-Dade County campaign office, in a strip mall next to a Nicaraguan fritanga.
Denied news or the ability to cover the colorful scene at the Cuban restaurant, reporters fruitlessly asked Ryan about Trump. “I’m just going to talk to these guys,” Ryan said, walking toward the volunteer phone-bankers.
When reporters got no answers, they turned to Curbelo, who continued to refuse to say who he’ll vote for if not Trump or Hillary Clinton.
“Maybe I’ll write-in a name,” Curbelo said, insisting his stance has been “clear.” “Maybe I’ll vote for a third-party candidate.”
The freshman Curbelo, who faces a challenge in his Democratic-leaning district from former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, was one of only a handful of House members rewarded with a campaign trip from Ryan, the country’s top elected Republican. Later Wednesday, on the same night as the final presidential debate, Ryan was scheduled to raise money for Curbelo’s reelection.
A Garcia-commissioned poll recently showed the race to be essentially tied. A Democratic poll conducted in the neighboring 27th district, held by Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, shows her popularity slipping, likely due to Trump even though she hasn’t endorsed him, either.
Ryan, worried about protecting the GOP majority, called Curbelo “a workhorse of workhorses.”
Outside Curbelo’s office, Garcia’s campaign convened a mass of demonstrators to protest Congress’ failure to pass immigration reform. The protesters had left by the time Ryan and Curbelo arrived, though not before getting plenty of TV footage.
Inside, Curbelo warned volunteers about potential “cheating” by Garcia, whose former chief of staff wound up in jail after orchestrating a scheme to unlawfully submit mail-ballot requests online.
“You know I’m running against somebody who’s cheated in the past. People went to jail,” Curbelo said. “We have to be ready for anything.”
Was Curbelo using the same line as Trump, who has railed about a “rigged” election despite no evidence to support the claim?
“This is based on fact. It is not based on some theory,” Curbelo said. “It is a very serious issue in the community.”
Trump’s claim, Curbelo added, is “wrong.”