U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz broke down in tears Saturday with almost three dozen union members flanking her at a press conference, attempting to highlight her support among organized labor groups after the Florida AFL-CIO declined to endorse her last week.
“When I could choose to work in Florida, unfortunately a right-to-work state, I chose to join a labor union and I was very proud to do that,” Wasserman Schultz said.
The Democratic National Committee chairwoman’s opponent as she seeks re-election, Nova Southeastern law professor Tim Canova, was quick to label the non-endorsement a “rejection” of Wasserman Schultz and her labor policies.
But Canova did not get an endorsement either, and Florida AFL-CIO President Mike Williams referred to Canova’s position as a “little bit of a reach.”
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“If that’s the case, then every candidate who got a no endorsement has been rejected by the AFL-CIO, and I certainly don’t see it that way,” Williams said.
Both Wasserman Schultz and Canova were at the Leadership Blue Gala in Hollywood on Saturday, and a caucus meeting of organized labor groups turned into a testy battle of support for the Democratic House hopefuls. Canova’s supporters, who were a visible presence at caucus meetings throughout the day, want Wasserman Schultz to debate Canova.
“When we get to the end of qualifying, we’ll evaluate that,” Wasserman Schultz said of debating her primary opponent.
Canova said he believes Wasserman Schultz is afraid to debate him.
“She’s never had to debate an opponent in her life,” Canova said. “Maybe she doesn’t have a real commitment, a real belief, in democracy, in the voters deciding.”
Wasserman Schultz continued to highlight her support from labor groups at her press conference. She claims that her campaign has received over 50 union endorsements to Canova’s three.
“I think that would be a good Politifact check for the Miami Herald,” Canova said of Wasserman Schultz’s claim. “People feel that their own elected representatives have been bought off by corporate interests and they want their government back.”
Canova, who asserts that Wasserman Schultz should resign as the chair of the DNC, faced questions from his own supporters this week after he expressed support for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. He did not officially endorse Clinton but understands that Bernie Sanders won’t be nominated for president and thinks that the Vermont senator could be an asset in another role.
“The party needs to unify if Hillary is going to be the nominee,” Canova said. “One way to unify would be for the head of the DNC to be Bernie Sanders. It’s probably the only way that Debbie won’t be booed off the stage.”
Wasserman Schultz also acknowledged the need to keep Sanders involved in the process, saying in response to a young Sanders supporter at the labor caucus meeting that Sanders would be part of the Democratic platform drafting committee in a few weeks.
“This is the first time an opposing candidate will be on the drafting committee,” Wasserman Schultz said.
The race now enters a new phase as the presidential primary contests wrapped up this week. Wasserman Schulz and Canova won’t face off in their own primary until late August. At the national level Democrats can focus on beating Donald Trump while Wasserman Schultz and Canova face another two months of intra-party campaigning.
Both Canova and Wasserman Schultz are on a fundraising blitz and are raising lots of money outside Florida. Canova declined to mention specifics on the geographic breakdown of his donors but says he has raised more money in Florida than Wasserman Schultz. He announced this week that he has raised more than $2 million while Wasserman Schultz has raised $1.8 million in her campaign’s most recent fundraising update.
Canova hopes to energize voter turnout in Broward County, which he said Democrats must win by 200,000 votes to secure the White House in November. He believes that Wasserman Schultz is content with a low voter turnout in the district if it helps her get reelected, which Canova said is bad for Democrats nationally.
“It’s one of the bluest districts in the state and has one of the lowest voter turnouts because it has representation that doesn’t look out for the people,” Canova said.