Democrat running for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s open seat drops out

Democrat Scott Fuhrman, a Miami businessman who ran against Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in 2016, is dropping out of the race for her open seat in 2018.
Democrat Scott Fuhrman, a Miami businessman who ran against Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in 2016, is dropping out of the race for her open seat in 2018. emichot@miamiherald.com

Miami businessman Scott Fuhrman, who jumped into politics last year and took on longtime Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, announced Tuesday that he’s suspending his campaign for Ros-Lehtinen’s open congressional seat in 2018.

Fuhrman said a lack of support from donors was the primary reason behind his decision.

“Running these campaigns costs an exorbitant amount of money, it’s really insane,” Fuhrman told the Miami Herald. “I spent over a million dollars of my own money in 2016 and this year. I couldn’t really get the support among the Democratic donor community without having to put in a huge amount of my own money in the race.”

Politico first reported Fuhrman’s decision on Tuesday morning.

“I really want to see a good representative in that seat,” Fuhrman said, adding that he plans to support state Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, in the Democratic primary. Richardson officially announced his candidacy on Tuesday.

“I do think he’s the best candidate among a crowded field,” Fuhrman said. “There are a lot of political opportunists seeking the path of least resistance. Where were they in 2016? I don’t want to throw stones at anyone in particular but I do think there’s some who wouldn’t take that tough vote in Congress.”

Fuhrman was the first Democrat to announce that he would challenge Ros-Lehtinen in 2018, before Ros-Lehtinen announced in April that she will retire from Congress. In the wake of the announcement, a slew of Democrats jumped in the race, further complicating Fuhrman’s path to the Democratic nomination.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Ros-Lehtinen’s district voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 20 percentage points in 2016, Clinton’s widest margin of victory in the country for a congressional seat held by a Republican. National Democrats are eying the seat, which contains the bulk of the city of Miami and Miami Beach, as a prime pickup opportunity.

So far, state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, Miami Beach commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person are running for the Democratic nomination in addition to Richardson. Miami city commissioner Ken Russell has set up an exploratory committee to gauge whether he should run, and Miami attorney Mary Barzee Flores, who was blocked from a federal judge position by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, affirmed her interest in the seat in an email to the Herald on Tuesday.

“I am being strongly encouraged to run and I’m seriously considering it,” Barzee Flores said.

On the Republican side, former school board member and Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado and Miami-Dade County commissioner Bruno Barreiro will run, along with Maria Peiro, who unsuccessfully challenged Ros-Lehtinen in last year’s primary. Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Jeb Bush Jr. were approached by the Republican Party about potentially running for the seat.

Fuhrman, who ran his family’s Allapattah juice-bottling business before entering politics, came closer than anyone else to unseating Ros-Lehtinen in 2016. Ros-Lehtinen beat Fuhrman 55-45 percent after Fuhrman spent more than $900,000 on that race, although the bulk of the campaign was self-financed.

Fuhrman’s investment prompted Ros-Lehtinen to spend $3.4 million on her reelection and attack Fuhrman over his lengthy arrest record, which he disclosed publicly at the onset of his campaign.

“I’ve sort of achieved my goal for Ileana to step aside or lose,” Fuhrman said. “If money was no object, I would continue, but the party was not behind me. They didn’t spend a dime in my race and I lost by a closer margin than anyone else. For whatever reason, I’m sort of the redheaded stepchild of the Democratic Party.”

Fuhrman has no plans to run for office in the near future, but isn’t ruling out a return to politics.

“If the right opportunity comes and I have the resources and backing of the community, then I’m definitely considering another run.”

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty