Bernie Sanders isn’t backing Tim Canova in his second bid against Wasserman Schultz

Tim Canova will challenge Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, in 2018.
Tim Canova will challenge Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, in 2018. Miami Herald

In the summer of 2016, Tim Canova was the South Florida proxy for the dying embers of Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid.

After Sanders endorsed — on national television — Canova’s bid to oust Debbie Wasserman Schultz from her congressional seat, the Nova Southeastern University law professor raked in millions from disaffected liberal Democrats around the country upset with her leadership of the Democratic National Committee and her perceived favoritism toward Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary.

“Clearly I favor her opponent, his views are much closer to mine than to Wasserman Schultz’s,” Sanders said in May 2016.

Last week, Canova announced he will challenge Wasserman Schultz again in 2018 despite a 14-point loss in the Democratic primary to the longtime congresswoman from Weston.

But this time around, Sanders isn’t on board.

“I have no idea about Tim Canova, I honestly don’t,” Sanders said when asked if he plans to support Canova’s second bid against Wasserman Schultz. “I know nothing about Tim Canova.”

Sanders declined to answer whether he thinks Wasserman Schultz should face a primary challenge from a more liberal-leaning Democrat.

The Canova campaign said the lack of support from Sanders doesn’t matter even though it could mean millions in contributions from supporters of the Vermont senator.

“In 2016, Tim Canova did not seek endorsements from any elected officials, including Senator Sanders,” Canova campaign spokesperson Deborah Dion said in an email. “Tim was therefore as surprised as anyone when Senator Sanders endorsed him five months into his campaign. Tim announced his candidacy for 2018 only last week and again he has not sought any endorsements from any politicians at any level, Senator Sanders' remarks do not change anything in our campaign or messaging.”

In an email, Canova acknowledged the importance of Sanders’ endorsement last year, even though Sanders did not come to Florida to campaign with Canova.

“I was thrilled when he endorsed me last year,” Canova said. “His endorsement gave us an important lift and I'm forever grateful for his support at such a critical time.”

Canova faces an uphill challenge against Wasserman Schultz, a prolific fundraiser who has widespread support among many constituencies in her Broward-based district that extends into northeastern Miami-Dade County. He’s now a second-time candidate facing off against an opponent who won reelection by double digits weeks after being ousted as DNC chair.

Canova has also spread conspiracy theories about murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich, and implied that Wasserman Schultz tried to hack his computer after announcing his reelection bid last week.

In January, Canova wrote on Facebook that Rich “may have been the Wikileaks source of the leaked DNC emails. He was gunned down, assassinated under suspicious circumstances just days after publication of those leaked emails.”

And last week he tweeted, “Announced last night 8 p.m. run vs. @DWSTweets again. At 2 a.m. my computer was attacked & surge protector fried. Same happened last campaign.”

Canova deleted the Facebook post and tweet.

But even though Sanders isn’t jumping into the race, the political action organization run by Sanders supporters dubbed Our Revolution could still step in and help Canova. A national spokeswoman for Our Revolution said it’s up to local chapters to decide if they will endorse Canova or not.

Kira Willig, a Sanders delegate in 2016 and leader of the Our Revolution affiliated People’s Progressive Caucus of Miami-Dade, said the group has not decided whether or not to endorse Canova in 2018.

“I’m certain that Tim Canova’s candidacy will be a discussion at our next meeting on July 5th,” Willig said.

Willig said she supports the policy positions of Canova over Wasserman Schultz, but acknowledged that spreading conspiracy theories doesn’t help win votes in the district, even if some liberal Democrats are emboldened by the rhetoric.

“I think it’s a distraction,” Willig said, adding that Canova has “a rough road ahead of him” due to Wasserman Schultz’s popularity in the district, even though she is disliked nationally by Sanders supporters.

“In Florida we are not a very progressive state and that is not a very progressive district,” Willig said.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty