State

July 9, 2013

Joe Garcia draws challenger Carlos Curbelo on day he posts big cash-haul

Embattled U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia boasted about a large fundraising haul on the same day that Miami-Dade School Board Member Carlos Curbelo announced he’d be the third Republican to challenge the freshman Democratic incumbent.

U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia has had the roughest of days for a congressional freshman: His former campaign team is under investigation for possible elections crimes and a bevy of Republicans is lining up to take him out.

But none of it has badly damaged the Miami Democrat’s fundraising.

Garcia’s team announced Tuesday that he raised about $440,000 in the last three months and has about $800,000 cash on hand.

“We are honored by the overwhelming support and I will continue to reach across the aisle and push for real immigration reform, improve our economy and get our fiscal house in order,” Garcia said in a written statement.

Garcia’s campaign said he has the second-highest fundraising total of the nearly 70 House freshman members, and that it’s a “reflection of his focus on the issues important to voters.”

Garcia made sure to make the announcement on the day that Miami-Dade School Board Member Carlos Curbelo, a Republican, announced he’d officially challenge Garcia in 2014.

Two other Republicans have announced plans to run for the District 26 seat: former Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Joe Martinez and Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall.

"Our campaign will not be about other politicians. It will not be about petty politics,” Curbelo said in a statement. “My candidacy will be about people, and making sure that my generation and my children’s generation can continue living and working in the greatest nation that the world has ever known.”

Curbelo’s statement said that he “Rejects [the] District’s History of Scandal and Fraud” — a not-so-veiled reference to the troubles faced both by Garcia and the man Garcia beat last year, Republican U.S. Rep. David Rivera, who’s under federal investigation for possible campaign and personal financial irregularities.

Garcia’s top adviser, Jeffrey Garcia (no relation), was abruptly fired as Garcia’s congressional chief of staff in late May after he took a measure of responsibility for an aborted scheme to illegally request the absentee ballots of about 500 voters without their permission.

Another Garcia staffer, Giancarlo Sopo, was implicated in the scheme and was put on unpaid leave. Sopo resigned last week. A third member of Garcia’s campaign team, John Estes, is also under investigation in the case launched by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.

District 26 is one of the most-competitive in Florida. Democrats narrowly outnumber Republicans, but the sizable number of independents make it a truly swing district.

President Obama carried District 26 by a comfortable 7-percentage point margin, and Garcia won his seat by nearly 11 points against Rivera.

Republican-paid polls indicate Garcia is vulnerable, but he’s not weak.

Even before the latest scandal broke, Republicans said they believed Garcia was vulnerable, in part because Republicans often do better in non-presidential election years in Florida.

But Garcia’s campaign said he’s a perfect fit for the battleground Key West-to-Miami-Dade district because, according to the Washington Post, Garcia votes his party line about 82 percent of the time and is therefore one of the most-moderate members of Florida’s 27-member U.S. House delegation.

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