Democrat’s candidacy sets up competitive 2016 race for swing South Florida congressional seat

Democrat Annette Taddeo campaigned in South Dade last year as Charlie Crist’s running mate for Florida governor. She plans to challenge Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in 2016.
Democrat Annette Taddeo campaigned in South Dade last year as Charlie Crist’s running mate for Florida governor. She plans to challenge Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in 2016. EL NUEVO HERALD

Barely three months into his congressional career, Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo has drawn a reelection challenger: Democrat Annette Taddeo, who plans to formally announce her candidacy Monday.

“This race is not about Carlos. This is about the people of Florida 26 that I strongly believe need a voice in Washington,” Taddeo told the Miami Herald on Sunday, referring to Curbelo’s congressional district. “I’m not aligned with any special interest, and I’m going to Washington to be the voice for the middle class, for the small-business owners, for the working moms.”

Taddeo, who turns 48 on Tuesday, most recently ran for office last year as Charlie Crist’s running mate in the Florida governor’s race. They lost.

But Taddeo — who had previously waged unsuccessful campaigns for Miami-Dade County Commission in 2010 and for Congress in 2008 — received statewide publicity, met a wide range of donors and gained valuable political experience.

In 2016, Taddeo would vie for the nation’s most competitive Hispanic-majority district against the freshman Curbelo in a presidential-election year, when more liberal-leaning voters tend to go to the polls. The swing 26th congressional district narrowly favors Democrats, who comprise 35 percent of registered voters, compared to 34 percent Republican and 30 percent without party affiliation.

Curbelo defeated Rep. Joe Garcia by 3 percentage points in a GOP-dominated year. But the Crist-Taddeo ticket won the district by 5 points over Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. In 2012, Garcia won by nearly 11 points, and President Barack Obama by 7 points.

Last year, the fiercely contested race drew more than $15 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, mostly from outside political groups.

Taddeo, the former head of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, is a keen partisan who appears aware that district voters have rewarded moderates.

“This is a very diverse district, and I know it well,” she said. “We have farmers — I grew up on a farm my first seven years. We have a lot of immigrants who are wanting to build the American Dream, and it’s getting harder and harder when special interests and lobbyists are the only voices that I think are being heard in Washington.”

It was Taddeo’s first interview confirming the announcement and a Thursday kickoff fundraiser in Miami with Crist. Her impending plans were first reported Friday by Politico.

Unlike Curbelo, Taddeo does not live in the district, which spans from Westchester to Key West. Members of Congress aren’t required to reside in the districts they represent — only in the same state. Yet Taddeo said she and her husband, Eric Goldstein, plan to sell their Pinecrest home and move into the district anyway. They have an 8-year-old daughter, Sofia, in addition to Goldstein’s two adult daughters from a previous marriage.

Taddeo was born in Colombia to a Colombian mother and an American father who was a U.S. Army veteran. She graduated high school and college in Alabama and settled in South Miami-Dade after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 wrecked her parents’ Saga Bay home. Taddeo, who is bilingual, launched a translation business, LanguageSpeak, in 1995.