Joe Henderson: For Debbie Wasserman Schultz, it’s time to ‘Just win, baby’

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While it probably was premature to prepare the political obituary for U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, that doesn’t mean the controversies around the long-serving Florida congresswoman haven’t taken a toll.

A new Florida Sun Sentinel/Florida Atlantic University poll shows Wasserman Schultz with a 10-point lead over challenger Tim Canova with little more than a week to go before the Democratic primary in CD-23 district covering parts of Broward and Dade counties.

That’s the good news for Wasserman Schultz, who has been in Congress since 2004.

It’s kind of a mixed bag though, starting with the fact she faces a challenge in the first place. She ran unopposed the 2014 primary, and she swept to victory in November with about 63 percent of the vote.

More ominously for her future political ambitions, her race with Canova is much closer than you would think a high-profile member of Congress would face from her own party. And Canova has been especially impressive in fund-raising, taking in $3.3 million to Wasserman Schultz’s $3.1 million.

About one-third of Canova’s money was raised since July 1, when almost every story about Wasserman Schultz included some sort of controversy.

She was forced to surrender her position as head of the party’s national committee last month after embarrassing email leaks showed she helped steer the presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton.

She was further humiliated when she was booed off the podium while trying to speak to the Florida delegation at the convention. Add in that she already was facing a formidable primary challenger in Canova, who has campaigned hard for Wall Street reform. He shares many of the populist positions championed by Bernie Sanders.

Wasserman Schultz has most of the major endorsements – President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, labor unions, the state’s LGBTA caucus, and so on. So, Canova countered with a major from Sanders’ stump speech to paint his opponent as an entrenched insider who is part of the problem.

That unquestionably has hurt her.

Although the polls now trend in Wasserman Schultz’s favor, voters appear to be sending a message that is far short of a mandate. Assuming she holds off Canova and wins in November, her future in national politics will be interesting to watch.

She probably is finished for the time being as a public face with the Democratic Party, and she chose — wisely — not to run for Marco Rubio’s seat in the U.S. Senate.

If Clinton beats Donald Trump and Democrats regain control of the House, Wasserman Schultz could be in line to chair a committee with some power. That could give her a chance to rehabilitate her image, and few members of Congress are more in need of that than her.

Until then, she likely will have to be satisfied to follow the mantra made famous in the National Football League by former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis — Just win, baby.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.