Democrat seeks rematch against Ros-Lehtinen

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen celebrates with her husband, Dexter Lehtinen, after winning reelection in November.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen celebrates with her husband, Dexter Lehtinen, after winning reelection in November. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

Hoping to ride a wave of discontent against President Donald Trump, a Democrat who lost to Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen last year plans to challenge her again in 2018 — though she has been one of Trump’s most vocal Republican critics.

Scott Fuhrman, who will announce his campaign Monday, said he expects anger at Trump to build over the next 18 months.

“I’m counting on that. I think Trump is the catalyst,” Fuhrman said in an interview with the Miami Herald. Ros-Lehtinen’s moderate positions are “not enough,” he added: “She’s still caucusing with the Republicans.”

Hillary Clinton won the Democratic-leaning 27th district, which comprises much of southeastern Miami-Dade County, by 20 percentage points. Fuhrman lost to Ros-Lehtinen by 55-45 percent, a difference of about 28,000 votes and the closest that anyone has gotten to unseating the consistently popular Republican, who’s been in office since 1989.

Florida Democrats, however, have tended to under-perform in recent non-presidential elections. And Ros-Lehtinen, who never backed Trump, has pointedly opposed him — and House GOP leaders — this year.

“Ileana is committed to continuing to work hard for South Florida and deliver results. Her opponent, who will be running a second time for this seat, is a candidate in search of a purpose,” her husband and campaign chairman, Dexter Lehtinen, said in a statement. “Ileana looks forward to a vigorous campaign as she works every day to continue to earn the voters’ trust.”

Ros-Lehtinen ran an aggressive 2016 campaign against Fuhrman, a first-time candidate who launched his candidacy only five months before the election. She hit him repeatedly over his criminal rap sheet, particularly his 2009 arrest in Colorado for driving under the influence and having a loaded handgun in the car. Fuhrman pleaded guilty, paid a fine and performed community service.

Ros-Lehtinen drained her $3.4 million campaign account in the 2016 race. Fuhrman spent about $900,000, almost all of which came from his own pocket. Until recently, Fuhrman, 35, ran his family’s Allapattah juice-bottling business; he is transitioning to become a board member so he has time to fundraise and grow his public profile. His own polls last year showed Ros-Lehtinen, 64, is known by virtually every voter in her district.

Fuhrman’s lead campaign consultant will be Eric Johnson, who managed Patrick Murphy’s U.S. Senate campaign last year. Also on the team: Ben Pollara, who ran Florida’s 2016 medical-marijuana ballot initiative, and Alicia Pardo, Clinton’s former finance director for southern states.

Last month, Fuhrman met with James Stretch, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s southern political director, who was in Miami as part of an ongoing candidate-recruitment effort. Stretch also sat down with Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, who is also planning to run.

“The hardworking families of Miami are tired of politicians like Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen who will say anything and everything to get reelected,” DCCC spokesman Cole Leiter said in a statement. “She’s never been more vulnerable and clearly she knows it.”