Scandals, outside spending key to Carlos Curbelo four-point victory over Joe Garcia

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Carlos Curbelo became part of a Republican-dominated midterm election wave by defeating Democrat Rep. Joe Garcia 52 to 48 percent in Florida’s 26th Congressional District.

Scandals that plagued Garcia’s campaign played a key role in the defeat of the freshman Miami congressman.

Curbelo, a 34-year-old Miami-Dade County School Board member, took the lead early in the race and held it through the end, winning by more than 4,800 votes out of 160,738 ballots cast.

CD 26 covers South Florida from Westchester to Key West.

“Tonight begins the work of giving the people of Florida’s 26th congressional district the honest and effective representation we need,” Curbelo said in a victory statement.

According to the Miami Herald, joining Curbelo onstage was Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, both Republican Cuban-American lawmakers; Curbelo had worked on both of their campaigns in the past.

Curbelo also served on the staff of former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux.

“We are celebrating an electoral victory, but we cannot forget that the American people remain frustrated and disillusioned with their government,” Curbelo told the crowd at RenA Venue in Kendall. “Here in our community, and throughout the country, Americans are seeking leaders who will put the cause of a stronger, greater nation before their personal political interests.”

He added that he would resign his school board seat.

Although Garcia, won a majority of Florida Keys voters, he conceded soon after the results of Miami-Dade precincts began rolling in.

“I just talked to Carlos Curbelo, and I congratulated him on his victory,” Garcia told a crowd of supporters, adding that it was “not a good year for Democrats.”

Garcia blamed his loss on the barrage of outside spending by conservative groups. Of more than $14 million spent, notes the Herald, nearly $9 million came from outside the campaigns, with $5.5 million of that for attack ads against Garcia.

Many of the negative advertising focused on “criminal investigations of multiple Garcia staffers,” primarily that of former campaign manager and ex-chief of staff Jeff Garcia (no relation). Jeff Garcia pleaded guilty last year to vote fraud, stemming from a local investigation over absentee ballot requests.

Jeff Garcia served 65 days in jail and is banned from volunteering or working on political campaigns.

Another successful ad pointed out “over $100,000 in campaign cash payoffs. His Chief of Staff charged massive election fraud, a felony offense. And jail time for it all.”

Garcia’s loss represented a pickup for Republicans, who held the seat two years ago. It balances a GOP loss by U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland to Democrat Gwen Graham in North Florida.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.