This much is clear: state Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez is running in the primary for Florida’s open 27th Congressional District.
What has not been as clear: is it the Democratic or Republican primary?
On its face, Rodriguez’s candidacy makes total sense: young, (sort of) telegenic, Cuban-American, Harvard-educated lawyer and state legislator who, in his rise from election to the state House and soon after that the Senate, defeated two popular Miami Republicans from a (once) venerable political dynasty.
However formidable this list may be, one giant box remains unchecked.
JJR, as he’s universally known, has never once endured the rigors of a Democratic primary. And since launching his latest electoral endeavor, that fact has become painfully obvious.
Take for example an email missive sent out by his campaign Friday in which Javier Rodriguez declares that Tallahassee’s Confederate monuments “belonged in a museum.” In his vigor to jump on the bandwagon of calling a special session for their removal, JJR apparently missed the mark regarding the current mood of the Democratic Party.
“Put them in a museum” has become a talking point of moderate Republicans, certainly not the liberal, Democratic base that votes in primaries.
To wit: When reached for comment, state Rep. David Richardson, one of JJR’s Democratic primary opponents (and a former colleague in the Florida House) trashed the email. Richardson said he “hadn’t heard any Democrats spend time this past week thinking about how to preserve monuments to those who fought to preserve slavery in our country.”
Fellow candidate and former Obama judicial nominee, Mary Barzee Flores, spent last week bashing the Trump administration in emails and social media. When asked about JJR’s email, her campaign didn’t want to comment on its specifics. However, her campaign manager told FloridaPolitics.com, “Mary would rather not see such monuments to the Confederacy on public display anywhere, including a museum.”
JJR’s tone-deaf email was just another in a succession of actions or comments suggesting the ever-ambitious Javier Rodriguez is out of touch with the Democratic base.
This identity crisis has significantly burdened his potential viability since the very first day of his campaign. When rolling out his campaign at the end of June, JJR said, “Donald Trump will not be on the ballot in 2018.”
His silence was so loud the editors at the Miami Herald penned the headline, “Miami Democrat kicks off congressional campaign talking health care, climate change – but not Trump.” It also caused Richardson to poke him a bit, saying “make no mistake, Donald Trump IS on the ballot [next] November.”
At the time, the state lawmaker’s pinball wizard punditry left virtually every Miami political watcher dumbfounded. One local insider put it to me best: “That was one of the stupider things I’ve heard from a Democrat. Didn’t JJR go to Harvard?”
But one doesn’t have to have an Ivy League education to read polls. In one such recent survey (grain of salt: leaked anonymously to POLITICO Florida by a consultant with another candidate in the race) Trump has an 85 percent (!!) negative rating from primary voting Democrats. In that same poll, “standing up to Trump” is tied as most important qualities in a potential candidate.
His team is reading the part of the poll that says retiring Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is well-liked by Democrats in the district? Even if that’s the case, she’s more rhetorically anti-Trump than JJR most of the time.
That same poll shows a tenuous status as “frontrunner.” JJR just barely cracks double digits in the 7-way scrum, pulling 15 percent. That’s to be expected, but what should be more troubling is that he has a name ID in the 30s. Part of JJR’s rationale is that his Senate district (and previously his House district) is entirely contained in CD 27.
The marginal benefit of that seems to be, well, marginal.
A lot of the chattering class and “the Process”-types have been grousing about JJR making this move in the first place. The Democratic Party infrastructure, and the progressive, dark-money, Florida Alliance folks put A LOT of money into seeing JJR take out Miguel DLP last fall. Some of them aren’t too happy about him putting that seat back into play next fall.
Given that JJR doesn’t seem too comfortable speaking the language of the Democratic base, maybe he should heed his benefactors and stay in the Florida Senate.