State Politics

Dems look to flip this state House seat, but the opponent has 60 times as much money

Democrat Javier Estevez is running against Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez for the Florida House District 105 seat.
Democrat Javier Estevez is running against Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez for the Florida House District 105 seat.

They say money is the mother’s milk of politics and if that’s so, Javier Estevez, the Democratic candidate for the Florida House of Representatives in District 105, must be feeling pretty hungry. He’s raised less than $5,000 for his race; his Republican opponent, Ana Maria Rodriguez, has taken in more than $230,000.

But Estevez says he’s not worried. “From the beginning, I knew we were going to be outspent,” he told the Miami Herald. “Miami Republicans outspend Democrats in every single race. But the winner is going to be the candidate who can outwork the other and get out the votes, not the one with the biggest bank account.”

Rodriguez, for her part, says nothing’s settled until the votes are all counted, and she’s not resting on her fund-raising laurels.

“Any race, any time your name is on the ballot, you’ve got to take your opponent seriously,” she said. “I know he’s out there, walking around the district and knocking on doors. And that’s what really gets people to come out and vote.”

The immense disparity in money — a 60-to-1 advantage for Rodriguez — is just one more odd element in one of South Florida’s oddest House districts. The product of a brutal gerrymander, District 105 stretches from Doral and Sweetwater on the far western age of Miami-Dade across Collier County to Naples. There’s even a little detour through Miramar in southwestern Broward.

“You know, when we talk about walking the sidewalks, a lot of the district is in the Everglades,” joked Estevez. “So there’s not as much walking as it looks like on the map.”

The district is also in almost perfect political balance. Of the registered voters, 31 percent are Republicans, 31 percent Democrats, and 38 percent — one of the highest proportions in the state — are unaffiliated with either party.

“The district has been electing Republicans for a while, so a lot of people consider it red,” said Rodriguez. “But that’s not really true. It’s really a race that needs to be taken seriously — it’s not a sure thing for a Republican.”

Democratic strategists agree with her: They consider District 105 one of the most flippable in the House and a good place to start chipping away at the 75-41 advantage Republicans hold in the chamber. (There’s no incumbent at the moment; Republican Rep. Carlos Trujillo, who used to hold the seat, was appointed OAS ambassador earlier this year, leaving it vacant.)

But even the most hard-bitten Democratic tactician concedes that won’t happen on a $4,000 budget. Estevez believes the party’s budding interest in the seat will eventually provide him with a budget somewhere between $60,000 and $100,00. “With the growing awareness of the flippability is going to come money,” he predicted.

Money is not the only matter upon which there’s a gap between the two candidate. The openly gay 32-year Estevez, the assistant manager of the American Eagle clothing store on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, is a relative newcomer to politics — though that did not stop him from defeating Ross Hancock, President Obama’s ambassador to the OAS, in the Democratic primary, by less than 150 votes out of about the 5,100 cast. (Estevez was also outspent about 10 to 1.)

“To be a representative doesn’t mean you have to be a career politician,” Estevez said. “I think it’s time we have somebody in Tallahassee who knows what it is to struggle to pay your bills at the end of the month. That’s the life most of the people in the district lead.”

Rodriguez, on the other hand, is a political veteran. The vice mayor of Doral, she was twice elected to the city council before term limits forced her to step aside this year.

She has also worked as a lobbyist for the Miami Association of Realtors and Baptist Health South Florida. She worked hard to pass a Doral ordinance granting city employees paid parental leave, as well as regulations making electric cars more convenient.

“I’ve been around a while, and I think most people know what I’ve accomplished and what I stand for,” she said. “Doral is a very progressive city, and I’ve got the support of many, many people in the county who aren’t Republicans. My issues are not partisan.

Estevez is a progressive Democrat, Rodriguez a moderate Republican; both are children of Cuban immigrants who’ve lived in South Florida all their lives. And in a campaign that’s barely underway, there have been few ideological clashes. Both support more money for teacher pay and Everglades preservation.