Polls show Joe Garcia with big lead in Miami Democratic primary for Congress

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Miami.
Former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Miami. EL NUEVO HERALD

The Democratic race for Florida’s most competitive congressional district looks like former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia’s to lose.

Garcia holds a 25-point lead over rival Annette Taddeo, according to a new internal poll by Garcia’s campaign. That’s 15 percentage points higher than it was in January, when Garcia’s team surveyed the match-up before he launched his candidacy for the 26th congressional district.

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“This poll reflects the strong support this community has for Joe Garcia,” campaign spokesman Javier Hernandez said in a statement released with a two-page summary of the latest results. “The people of this district know that when they choose Joe Garcia, their voices will be heard in Washington.”

Garcia bests Taddeo by 53-28 percent, with 19 percent of likely Democratic primary voters undecided , according to the poll conducted by the campaign’s pollster, Pete Brodnitz of Expedition Strategies. The January poll by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, an outside firm, pegged Garcia’s lead at 34-24 percent, with 42 percent undecided.

The new lead jibes with an internal poll by Taddeo’s campaign shared in its entirety with the Miami Herald. That survey had Garcia ahead 48-27 percent — by 21 points — with 25 percent undecided.

But Taddeo’s poll also showed her doing far better than Garcia once voters learned about Taddeo’s personal background as the Colombian immigrant daughter of a Colombian mother and an American father, and about her positions on issues important to progressives.

“We always knew that a former Congressman who has been running in the same seat for 10 years would start with an advantage,” Taddeo campaign manager Shaun Daniels said in a statement. “We also know that Garcia’s support absolutely crumbles when the voters have another choice.”

Taddeo’s polling firm, Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, tested giving voters a positive message about Taddeo and her policies. Without mentioning anything negative about Garcia, the positive message put Taddeo over the top.

“After the positives, the final margin in this race is 48 points (69-21) in Annette’s favor,” Daniels said.

Garcia’s poll shows the former congressman’s popularity also going up to 32 percentage points after offering voters positive information about himself and Taddeo.

For Taddeo, getting out her message will be costly endeavor. The campaign will have to introduce Taddeo to a wide swath of voters in the district, which stretches from Westchester to Key West, long the Aug. 30 primary, since early voting by mail and inperson begins weeks earlier. Garcia and Taddeo are vying to take on Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in November.

Taddeo has the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which chose to endorse her rather than stay neutral in the primary, and of Emily’s List, a deep-pocketed organization that promotes women candidates. But her campaign fundraising, while consistent, hasn’t been impressive enough to win over some donors staying out of the primary because they don’t want to choose between her and Garcia.

Garcia has political baggage Taddeo could try to exploit, though negative campaigning might turn off some primary voters: His former chief of staff landed in jail for orchestrating an online absentee-ballot request scheme. Many Democrats are probably already familiar with the story from when Garcia lost re-election two years ago, however, and Garcia wasn’t charged with any wrongdoing.

Both surveys coincide in other results. Garcia is a far bigger political name than Taddeo: In Garcia’s poll, 81 percent of respondents recognized his name compared to 35 percent who recognized hers. In Taddeo’s poll, those numbers were 79 percent and 35 percent, respectively.

The two candidates are also well-liked — especially the better-known Garcia. In Garcia’s poll, he was viewed favorably by 56 percent of respondents and negatively by 25 percent of them, giving him a net favorability rating of 31 points. She was viewed favorably by 28 percent of respondents and negatively by 7 percent, for a net rating of 21 points.

In Taddeo’s poll, his rating was 37 points and hers was 25 points. Garcia’s poll, conducted May 10-13, had an error margin of 4.9 percentage points, and Taddeo’s, conducted in April, of 4.4 percentage points.

Daniels, Taddeo’s campaign manager, said her favorability and name ID numbers show Taddeo’s got plenty of room to grow, given that her campaign has yet to reach out to voters in earnest.

“Remember there has no communication in this race and we are confident about Annette’s position,” he said.

Hernandez, Garcia’s spokesman, had a different interpretation: that the results show a reservoir of good will among Democrats who remember the candidate’s 2013-15 term in Congress.

“Joe successfully sponsored legislation that cut student loan interest rates by half, making college more affordable for students,” he said. “He stood up to Republicans who wanted to repeal Obamacare in Congress, he worked to strengthen environmental protections and secured millions in federal funding to improve South Florida water quality and restore the Everglades.”