House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy likes Donald Trump so much he once sorted through a bag of Starburst candy to pick out the cherry and strawberry flavored square-shaped fruit chews — Trump’s favorite flavors — to present the president with a personalized gift.
McCarthy, a California congressman who wants to lead Republicans in the House of Representatives after the November election, has voiced explicit support for funding Trump’s proposed Mexico border wall and sponsored a bill called the “Build the Wall, Enforce the Law Act of 2018.”
He’s also raising money for Miami congressional candidate Maria Elvira Salazar, a Republican running in a majority Hispanic district Trump lost by nearly 20 percentage points.
Salazar is set to host a fundraiser with McCarthy on Wednesday, according to an invitation obtained by the Miami Herald. The lunchtime gathering at the Riviera Country Club in Coral Gables lists $10,000 in fundraising for “host” status and $5,000 in fundraising for “co-host” status.
Salazar, a former TV journalist, has won over national Republicans after making the race to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen against Democrat Donna Shalala competitive. The prospect of a Salazar victory has led to outside groups investing in the race after previously considering it unwinnable and has drawn the attention of Republicans like McCarthy who can raise money.
It also brings a Republican to South Florida who has pledged to support Trump’s request for Congress to fund a border wall, something the GOP has not done during Trump’s first term despite a unified majority in the House and Senate. As Speaker, McCarthy would have the power to force votes on spending bills that could include Trump’s border wall.
Salazar’s campaign did not respond when asked if McCarthy’s visit means that she will vote for him to lead House Republicans if elected. The only announced challenger to McCarthy among Republicans is Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a far-right congressman who also supports Trump. A spokesperson for McCarthy’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo has previously said that he plans to vote against his party’s nominee for House Speaker unless the nominee agrees to rule changes that would curb some of the power of party leaders and make it easier for bills with bipartisan support to pass.
Shalala’s campaign denounced McCarthy’s visit a week after a visit from Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sparked a protest in which Miami Republicans and members of a far-right fringe group that promotes violence banged on the doors at Shalala’s campaign office and shouted slurs at Pelosi, who hopes to lead the House if Democrats win a majority.
“Maria Elvira says she believes in climate change and supports banning assault weapons, yet she’s campaigning with one of Congress’s biggest climate deniers and NRA enablers,” Shalala’s campaign manager, Will Washington, said in a statement. “Kevin McCarthy’s extreme agenda in Washington is devastating for families across this district. He’s here this week because he knows that despite her rhetoric, Maria Elvira would vote in lock step with the same Congressional Republicans who voted to rip away health care coverage from millions and continue to block a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers.”
Salazar has previously said that she would vote to spend money on Trump’s border priorities if elected to Congress, but stopped short of explicitly endorsing the wall. Incumbent Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart have expressed similar positions.
In an interview last month on MSNBC, Salazar said she would “definitely vote in order to secure the border” and said she would support “any type of tower, any type of technology, any type of guards for border security that will secure the border because we do not want [imprisoned Mexican drug lord] El Chapo or his friends smuggling drugs.”
The fundraising visit is the latest twist in a high-profile race in which recent signs point to Shalala gaining a slight advantage over Salazar. An independent New York Times/Siena College poll conducted last week shows Shalala with a 7 percentage point lead over Salazar, though the margin of error is 5 percentage points in either candidate’s direction. The Cook Political Report also moved the race back to “lean Democratic” on Tuesday after moving the race to “toss-up” status a month ago due to Shalala’s weak candidacy. A recent internal poll by Salazar shows her leading Shalala by 9 percentage points.
Both sides are spending millions on advertising, confident that their preferred candidate can win. Democrats are up with an ad that attempts to tie Salazar to Trump, while a Super PAC aligned with current House Speaker Paul Ryan diverted $1 million from a Colorado congressional race to run an anti-Shalala ad in the district, which includes Miami Beach, Little Havana, Kendall and other portions of eastern Miami-Dade County.
Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this report.