It might be easier at this point to list the Democrats NOT running for Congress in FL-27 given how many who currently are in the race. But the entry today of former circuit court judge and Obama judicial nominee (never confirmed, thanks to Marco Rubio) Mary Barzee Flores shakes up the dynamic of the primary in ways that have to be making on-paper front runner, state Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez nervous.
Florida’s 27th district is a Democratic seat, although it’s been occupied for a generation by the universally beloved, electorally invincible, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Hillary Clinton won the district by a 20 point margin last fall, Crist by 6 in 2014, and Obama by 7 in 2012.
But then a tall, ginger, juice magnate, named Scott Fuhrman came around last year and ran against Ros-Lehtinen, hoping to ride what was then anticipated to be a Hillary “wave.” The wave never materialized and Fuhrman lost by just shy of 10 points. But Ros-Lehtinen spent every penny of her $3 million plus war chest to defeat the Juice boy and a few month later made the calculation that it wasn’t worth another nasty election cycle with a big target on her back in the form of a D +20 presidential performance – the largest in the country in a seat held by a Republican.
District 27 also happens to be one of the most Hispanic districts in the country, which on its face might make it seem tailor made for JJR.
That is, until Barzee Flores’ announcement today.
Barzee Flores may not be Hispanic (the “Flores” comes from her husband, who is Mexican-American), but she’s a Miami native who has lived in the district her whole life, including the last three decades as an attorney. That piece of biography makes her credible as a candidate and, potentially, formidable as a fundraiser. Her generation of lawyers who worked as Assistant U.S. Attorneys and Federal Public Defenders are now some of the biggest players in Miami’s legal and political community – former state Senator Dan Gelber is among that cohort.
She’s also a woman, if you couldn’t tell by her name. That’s a big deal when Democratic primaries are generally close to 60% female. It’s also a big deal if it means you get the support of EMILY’s List, which can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars to a campaign, as well as national political infrastrucure, and which seems likely given that MBF’s past support of the pro-choice organization was cited by Rubio as one of the reasons he blocked her federal judgeship.
(Miami Beach commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez is also in the primary, but has a tendency to say things that – “give cops back their bullets, remove their body cameras” for instance – that are simply disqualifying in a relatively liberal Democratic primary electorate. Rosen Gonzalez is also widely viewed as the candidate least likely to make it all the way through to filing.)
And, by the way, the primary electorate ain’t that Hispanic. The registration numbers show an ever so slightly majority Hispanic registration among Democrats, but turnout tells a different story. Hispanic turnout is just under 40% of the total primary vote, with the vast majority of the balance being white voters, just over double-digits African-American and a handful of “other”s. Of the roughly 40% of Hispanic Democrats likely to vote in a primary, half of those voters are Cubans, JJR’s assumed base given the fact he launched his campaign in Little Havana. His path gets narrower as you peel back the onion.
We’ll have a better sense of the dynamics come mid-October, when all the campaigns will have to report their first quarter of fundraising. If Barzee Flores comes out of the gate strong, she immediately becomes the one to beat in this primary.
As evidenced by Patricia Mazzei‘s gauzy profile in the Miami Herald, the woman is serious and has a hell of a compelling biography. There’s a clear demographic pathway to victory for a white woman with a Hispanic last name. And her background in the legal community suggests she’ll be a strong fundraiser.
We’ll find out soon enough.