Bernie Sanders, the politician who elevated first-time candidate Tim Canova to national attention and a rich campaign warchest, doesn’t appear to be coming to South Florida to help out his protégé in his battle against U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
At a press conference Wednesday — less than a week before the Aug. 30 primary — at his Hollywood campaign office, Canova pushed back against reporters’ questions about why Sanders hasn’t appeared in the Broward/Miami-Dade district.
“You tell me why he isn’t coming,” said Canova. “I don’t have an answer to that. I am very proud to have his support. Quite frankly we don’t need him here to win this election. Our field operation is growing by the day. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is the one who needs to run out and get folks to come in from out of town to help protect her — to shield her from the voters. I am out there talking to voters every day.”
Wasserman Schultz has recruited many of the party’s top names to campaign for her in the district, including Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, civil-rights icon and Georgia Rep. John Lewis and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot at a congressional event in Arizona in 2011. President Barack Obama also praised Wasserman Schultz when he was in South Florida. Obama had tapped her as his Democratic National Committee chair — a role from which she stepped down in July following the WikiLeaks publication of thousands of DNC emails.
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Canova has only one big backer: Sanders. In May, Sanders announced on CNN that he was backing Canova and has since sent fundraising emails on his behalf.
The political novice has echoed many of Sanders’ campaign themes, such as demanding campaign-finance reform. Like Sanders, Canova’s fundraising strategy has relied on small-donor contributions online while eschewing lavish fundraisers and corporate support. The two men know each other: In 2011 Sanders appointed Canova, a law professor who is an expert on finance, to an advisory committee about Federal Reserve reform.
In July, about a week before the Democratic convention, Sanders told USA Today he would support at least 100 candidates across the country in 2016 — including Canova — and possibly campaign for them in person.
At a roundtable interview with Bloomberg Politics July 26 two days after Wasserman Schultz said she would step down as DNC chair, Sanders said he might campaign for Canova. He said that he would be doing so not due to a “personal vendetta against Debbie," but because Canova is a "good candidate,” the Associated Press reported.
But it appears Sanders has blown Canova off, perhaps because Canova still appears to be a longshot.
“We need all the help we can get,” Canova told the YouTube show Young Turks, according to a clip played Tuesday night on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show. “Look, when Bernie endorsed me, he called me and gave me his number and said, ‘Stay in touch and please call.’ And I have, and I`m waiting for Bernie to return my call.... So we are hoping that the Sanders campaign does still come through, that Bernie comes through and makes an appearance for us, or at the very least, helps us raise some more money during such a critical period down the home stretch. And that is our hope.”
Spokespersons for Sanders did not reply to emailed questions from the Miami Herald Wednesday. Sanders’ new political organization, Our Revolution, has been plagued by infighting about management and financing that led to the departure of several staffers in recent days, Politico reported.
At his Hollywood press conference, Canova said he had invited Sanders to come and that they had “some general conversations.” But when asked if Sanders ever told him whether he would show up, Canova bristled.
“No comment,” Canova said, referring reporters back to Sanders comments that he would probably campaign for Canova.
Canova’s campaign hired Sanders’ media consultants — Devine, Mulvey and Longbaugh — in late July only to see them quit about two weeks later. Canova said Wednesday his campaign rejected the consultants’ strategy of focusing money on TV ads rather than on field operations. Canova also said an attack ad the consultants pitched was “over the top.”
“Bernie Sanders’ media consultants left the campaign because we weren’t taking their advice,” Canova said. “I rejected their advice and put more money in the field than TV. I said from the beginning the campaign was not relying on Beltway consultants.”
Mark Longbaugh declined to provide specifics about what happened between his firm and Canova.
“l think it's unfortunate Tim Canova decided to characterize it that way,” he said. “We left the campaign because of a disagreement over strategy, the message and the professionalism of the campaign.”
Canova tried to make the case that it doesn’t matter if Sanders stumps for him in person. But a recent poll by the Sun Sentinel and Florida Atlantic University showed Canova has a wide lead among young voters and Sanders voters — a sign that a visit by Sanders to the district could boost his campaign. However, it would be tough for Canova to win on Sanders’ supporters alone because Clinton got twice as many votes in the district than Sanders during the presidential primary.
“The voters of this district don’t much care if Bernie comes here or not,” Canova said. “They care about issues about putting food on the table — real issues of concern to them, whether social security will keep up with inflation, how a child is going to pay for higher education, whether the drinking water is going be drinkable. That’s what I am talking about in this campaign and that’s why I called this press conference. Bernie Sanders is not on the ballot, Hillary Clinton is not on ballot. You might all find it very interesting to talk about — it's not of importance to me.”