Raquel Regalado announces run for Congress

Raquel Regalado speaks to the media at the Dade County Courthouse last October.
Raquel Regalado speaks to the media at the Dade County Courthouse last October. adiaz@miamiherald.com

After weeks of demurring, Raquel Regalado says she’ll run to replace the retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Congress.

The former Miami-Dade School Board member told the Miami Herald on Tuesday that she’s “all in” after spending the last several weeks meeting with political committees and Republican leaders in Washington.

A 42-year-old mother of two and self-described “compassionate Republican,” Regalado said she’s the type of moderate candidate capable of holding the Democratic-leaning 27th Congressional District for the GOP next year.

“Even though the Democrats are saying this seat has to go to a Democrat because independents will lean to a ‘D,’ I disagree,” said Regalado, an attorney by training who hosts a Spanish-language radio show four days a week. “I think the majority of people believe it will be better to have a Republican in the room than a Democrat out in the hall.”

Regalado, the daughter of Miami’s mayor, said she wants to focus on education policy on the federal level. Her children, Isabela, 13, and Sebastian, 12, are both on the autism spectrum, and their future was a motivating factors in her run years ago for the school board.

“We need to find jobs and opportunities for autistic adults after the age of 22, and I can do that work in Washington. That’s what I’ll talk about today,” said Regalado, who planned to officially announce her campaign Tuesday night during a Miami Young Republicans event in Little Havana focused on women making an impact in Miami. “I also believe that Washington needs moderate voices. I’m a moderate voice and I’m not shying away from that.”

Her entry presents the prospect of yet another Miami “Game of Thrones” in a city dominated by a handful of families. Like her father, who refused to vote for Donald Trump for president, the younger Regalado has a history of bucking her party: In 2010, she campaigned for Democrat Alex Sink for governor, over Republican Rick Scott. Last year, Regalado challenged Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a fellow Republican, and lost.

Regalado is the second big-name Republican candidate, following Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, whose wife is currently campaigning against Regalado’s brother for a Miami commission seat. Maria Peiro has also filed to run. Other well-known Republicans have been considering candidacies, including Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

Leading the crowded Democratic field is state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami. Other Democratic candidates include businessman Scott Fuhrman, Michael A. Hepburn, Mark Anthony Person and Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez.

Two rumored Republican candidates, state Sens. Anitere Flores of Miami and René García of Hialeah, have ruled out campaigns. So, apparently, has Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who’s registered without party affiliation.

The seat is a top pickup opportunity for Democrats: Hillary Clinton won the district over Donald Trump by 20 percentage points. The district covers a swath of coastal, southeastern Miami-Dade and Miami Beach.

Regalado said part of the reason she needed a month to decide whether to announce a campaign was her desire to meet with the National Republican Congressional Committee and ensure they’d support a moderate candidate if she wins the primary (they told her they would, she said). Barreiro also met with the NRCC last week.

Regalado said she also wanted to make sure they’re committed to the seat, given that it favors Democrats.

“It’s one of the five top seats for the party in the nation, so they’re paying close attention and they’re going to invest in keeping this seat,” she said. “The Republican Party will stand by whoever wins the primary.”

Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.