Former University of Miami president Donna Shalala is a long way from silencing the haters, but her campaign has a new poll that should ease doubts that she can win a congressional seat the Democratic party can ill afford to let slip away.
Amid increasing evidence that Shalala has her hands full with Republican opponent Maria Elvira Salazar, the former Health and Human Services secretary’s campaign has released an internal poll showing Shalala ahead in the race to replace the retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as the representative of Florida’s 27th congressional district.
Shalala, 77, leads Salazar, 56, by five points, according to a polling memo from Anzalone Liszt Grove Research. The firm found Shalala ahead of the former Spanish-language broadcast journalist by a 44 to 39 margin, with about 10 percent of voters undecided.
Shalala’s lead is within the poll’s 4.4-point margin of error, and internal polls should always be received with some skepticism. But following a calendar month in which a non-partisan elections handicapper moved the race to a toss-up and an independent Mason-Dixon Telemundo 51 poll found Shalala down two, Democrats will take all the good news they can get.
The poll, a bilingual query by live callers of 500 voters Oct. 11-14, should give Democratic voters reason for optimism. For one, compared to the Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy poll, Shalala fared better with Cuban voters, who comprise a plurality of the district. Shalala’s poll also found Pro-Trump, no-party-affiliation candidate Mayra Joli earning 6 percent of the vote (compared to 1 percent in the Mason-Dixon Poll), a number that could end up being the difference between the Republicans holding the seat and the Democrats snaring it for the first time in decades.
One of the gripes Shalala’s campaign had about the Telemundo poll was its finding that President Donald Trump’s favorability rating was only underwater by 3 points. Their internal poll found that 40 percent of the district has an favorable view of the president, compared to 57 percent viewing him unfavorably — a split more consistent with the results of the 2016 election, when Hillary Clinton beat Trump by 20 points.
The campaign’s poll also found that Shalala is ahead of Salazar with independent voters 43 to 27, leads among white voters 45 to 37, and trails with Cuban voters 58-31.
Even if Shalala’s polling is on target, she still has a tough fight on her hands. She doesn’t speak Spanish in a majority-Hispanic district, is running against an opponent who made a career appearing on television and radio, and was bruised in a difficult primary election where Salazar mostly skated by.
Salazar’s fundraising is also keeping pace. And on Tuesday, a Paul Ryan super PAC began airing attack ads against Shalala on TV and on digital platforms, a sign that national Republicans have changed mood on a race that one year ago some believed to be unwinnable.