One of Democrats’ biggest goals for the 2018 election is to defeat Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Friday during a South Florida visit.
What she didn’t explain was why her party has yet to find someone to run against him.
“We will be having a strong focus on Florida in the next election and certainly the Curbelo race will be one of them,” Pelosi pledged Friday in Wilton Manors.
Several Democrats intend to run for the Democratic-leaning 27th congressional district being vacated by Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring. But none have challenged Curbelo, a sophomore lawmaker whose 26th district also leans blue.
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Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee officials have met with potential Curbelo challengers. Pelosi told the Miami Herald that she herself hadn’t met with any potential candidates.
“We are actively meeting with and hearing from candidates who are interested in stepping up because of unprecedented attacks on healthcare, immigration and our core values in Washington,” DCCC spokesman Cole Leiter said.
Pelosi said that President Donald Trump’s low favorability ratings have given Democrats confidence in their mission to win back the House and put more Democrats in office in other seats nationwide. She also said that U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s reelection is “very important.”
“We feel very confident about where we are today — when we won in ’05-’06 at this point President Bush was at 58 percent in the polls. President Trump is at 38 percent in the polls,” she said. “So we have real opportunity — people see the urgency, they want to do everything they can to win.”
Pelosi, of California, didn’t speculate as to why Curbelo remains unopposed. Republicans and their allies spent some $6 million last year defending him, while his own campaign raised about $3.9 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Even House Speaker Paul Ryan flew down to campaign on Curbelo’s behalf.
The prospect of similar GOP spending in 2018 could scare away some Democrats. So might Curbelo’s moderate positions on issues such as climate change, and his frequent criticism of Trump.
Candidates still have plenty of time to run, but the longer the wait, the less time they’ll have to ask donors for money. Curbelo is a prodigious fundraiser — he raised about $600,000 during the first quarter.
Another potential factor affecting Democratic recruitment: Ros-Lehtinen’s surprise retirement may have lured the strongest Democratic candidates to her open seat, according to Democratic strategist Steve Schale.
Ros-Lehtinen’s 27th district “is probably four to five points better for a Democrat” than Curbelo’s 26th district, Schale said. “I do think that a lot of your top-tier candidates are going to look at this seat first.”
Also unknown: what the political landscape will look like by the fall of 2018, including Trump’s favorability rating and which party will face most of voters’ wrath over healthcare.
Here’s why Democrats have targeted Curbelo’s District 26: It performed an average of 6 percentage points more Democratic than the nation did as a whole between the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, according to research by Cook Report editor David Wasserman. And Democrats see Curbelo as vulnerable because of his vote in favor of the GOP’s healthcare bill earlier this month. Curbelo’s district has one of the highest enrollments in Obamacare in the country, and a report released this week by the Congressional Budget Office predicted that the GOP bill would leave 23 million uninsured in about a decade.
Yet despite the left-leaning edge in his district, Curbelo won reelection last year against Democrat Joe Garcia by 12 points. A former Miami-Dade School Board member, Curbelo won his first seat in 2014.
“I'm grateful to Leader Pelosi for visiting our community and for thinking of me,” Curbelo said in a statement to the Miami Herald. “Over the years she has spent millions of dollars raised from the far left to defeat me. This has helped stimulate our local economy and given me the opportunity to distinguish myself from partisan career politicians on both sides of the aisle.”
Pelosi’s only public appearance was at an event at the Pride Center in Wilton Manors with U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston. On Friday morning, the three Democrats held an event to highlight their support for the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to guarantee federal protections for LGBT individuals in education, employment, housing and other areas.
The bill introduced May 2 has 194 co-sponsors — all Democrats except for Ros-Lehtinen. Since this is a Democratic effort in a GOP Congress it is not expected to pass. A similar bill was introduced in the House in 2015 and never reached a vote.
Pelosi vowed to take on the Republicans in 2018.
“This is going to be — I don’t want to use the word ‘cold-blooded.’ What’s another word for ‘cold-blooded’? Disciplined, focused, strategic election to either change the minds of people in office or change the people in office.”
Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.