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Florida U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen bowing out after three decades in Congress

Her departure opens up a prime opportunity for Democrats to pick up a GOP-held seat

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

MIAMI (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the dean of Florida’s House delegation, will not seek re-election in 2018 to her 27th District seat in Miami-Dade County, drawing down the curtain on three decades of service that have made her an icon in the state’s politically powerful Cuban-American community.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

The decision means Republicans will now have to defend a seat from a district which Donald Trump lost by 20 points in 2016 but which had continued to return Ros-Lehtinen to office term after term.

“It’s a great job. But there comes a time when you say, you know, even though this is a wonderful life, and even though I’m doing what I love to do, there’s so many other wonderful things,” she said at a May 1 news conference announcing her retirement.

Ros-Lehtinen, a moderate Republican who has found herself at odds with Trump and other members of her own party, also insisted her departure is unrelated to the current political climate in Washington.

“I know it would be a great narrative to say people aren’t civil with each other and that there’s just a lot of infighting,” she said. “But I’ve been there so many years, I don’t recall a time when there hasn’t been infighting.”

“I’m not frustrated by that.”

Ros-Lehtinen, 64, who was born in Cuba and moved to Miami with her parents at the age of 7, won a House seat in a 1989 special election to fill the vacancy created by the death of  Claude Pepper, who himself was a political icon in Miami. She became the first Cuban-American ever elected to Congress and the first Republican woman elected to Congress from Florida.

She has faced little opposition since that first election. However, as the Cuban-American community in Miami has become less monolithically Republican in the last 20 years and district lines have been been altered, the GOP has held on to the district largely because of Ros-Lehtinen’s popularity.

Still, in 2016, she won by just 10 points, as Hillary Clinton was pasting Trump in her district. Democrats were expected to try to contest the seat in 2018, although Ros-Lehtinen expressed confidence that she would have won if she had she run again.

Ros-Lehtinen has left signficant daylight between herself and Trump, refusing to endorse him and opposing both his plans to repeal and replace Obamacare and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. As the mother of a transgender son, she has also been a champion for LGBT equality in Congress.

The 27th is one of just six Southern House seats held by Republicans that Clinton carried, and her margin there was the largest win in any GOP-held district in the country. Ros-Lehtinen’s departure means Democrats will have an opportunity to pick up the seat.

The race to replace Ros-Lehtinen will be a wide open affair, likely drawing a number of Cuban-American politicians from both parties into the mix. Among the Republicans being mentioned is  Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera, who has run statewide and is closely allied with the state’s two top Republicans, Governor Rick Scott, and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.

Several state legislators are also eyeing the race, which may mean that the field won’t begin to fill out until the legislature adjourns later in May.

How much can Hillary Clinton dent the South’s Republican hegemony?

Trump must beat Clinton in Florida and North Carolina, and avoid any other Southern surprises, to win

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

election-central-16(CFP) — In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney blew across the South, carrying 12 of the 14 Southern states — 10 of them by double-digit margins —  and losing another, Florida, by just a single point.

Heading into Tuesday’s election, Donald Trump’s quest for the White House may hinge on how well he can hang on to Romney’s Southern support, amid signs that Hillary Clinton is poised to do better in the region than Barack Obama did four years ago.

Pre-election polls show that both Florida, which Obama carried in 2012, and North Carolina, which he did not, are toss-ups between Clinton and Trump.

The news is better for Clinton in Virginia, where polls show her with a clear lead in a state Obama carried in both 2008 and 2012.

Together, those three states have 57 electoral votes, out of the 270 needed to win.

Florida and North Carolina are more important to Trump than to Clinton: She could lose both and still win in the Electoral College, but if he loses either of them, his route to victory is likely cut off.

A key metric in Florida will be how many Latino voters turn out and how much Clinton can benefit from Trump’s anti-immigration stance and incendiary comments about Latinos, particularly Mexicans.

About 15 percent of the Florida electorate is Latino, about 1.8 million voters, and about a third of those voters are Cuban-Americans, normally a reliably Republican group. But Trump’s support in that community — necessary for a Republican to win statewide — remains a question mark.

Much of the GOP Cuban-American political leadership in Miami has refused to endorse Trump, including U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart. Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera has also kept his distance from Trump, although he did appear at an event in Miami with the GOP nominee back in October.

With Florida and North Carolina up for grabs, an equally intriguing question heading into election night is the degree to which Trump might be in trouble in other unexpected places in the South.

For instance, three media polls taken last week in Georgia showed that the race between Clinton and Trump in Georgia was a statistical tie. Georgia has not gone for a Democrat for president since 1992, when Clinton’s husband, Bill, won narrowly in a three-way race.

Priorities USA, a Clinton-allied Super PAC, had been airing ads in Georgia, although the Clinton campaign itself has not moved resources into the state.

Polls in mid-October also showed a closer-than-expected race in Texas, where Trump’s weakness among Latino voters seemed to be having an effect. However, more recent polling in Texas has shown Trump reestablishing a lead.

Because most Southern states are perceived to be solid Republican territory, there has been little public polling in most of them, save for Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Texas.

However, some national polling has shown Trump’s support weaker across the South than what Romney managed to put up four years ago. So, in an election that has seen its share of surprises, there is no way until the votes are counted to know if there might be other Southern surprises lurking in the presidential race.

Poll: Rubio opens up big lead in Florida U.S. Senate race

Incumbent Republican leads two possible Democratic challengers by double digits

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugGAINESVILLE, Florida (CFP) — Less than a month after parachuting into Florida’s U.S. Senate race, Republican incumbent Marco Rubio has opened up a commanding lead over both of his likely Democratic opponents, according to a new poll.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

A Quinniapiac University poll found that Rubio leads Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy by 13 points, 50 percent to 37 percent. He held nearly the same lead over Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, 50 percent to 38 percent. The poll of 1,015 Florida voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The poll found that Rubio’s only remaining major Republican challenger, businessman Carlos Beruff, was tied with Grayson and trailed Murphy by 6 points, illustrating that at this point, Rubio is a far stronger general election candidate.

The poll did not test how Rubio and Beruff stand with GOP voters ahead of the Aug. 30 primary.

For months, Rubio insisted that he would retire from the Senate after his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination proved unsuccessful, But, under pressure from party leaders concerned about losing the seat to a Democrat, Rubio changed course and filed to run for re-election.

In the wake of that decision, three Republicans who had been fighting for the Senate seat — U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis and David Jolly and Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera — ended their campaigns, leaving Beruff as Rubio’s only hurdle to the Republican nomination.

Marco Rubio reverses course, will seek re-election to the U.S. Senate

Two other GOP candidates depart race after Rubio’s decision

florida mugMIAMI (CFP) — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio will seek re-election to the Senate this fall, reversing an earlier decision to leave political office after his unsuccessful presidential campaign.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

After Rubio announced his decision June 22, two Republicans currently running for his seat, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Florida Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera, announced they would drop out in deference to Rubio. DeSantis will now run for re-election in Florida’s 6th District.

In a statement announcing his change of heart, Rubio, who had been under pressure from national Republican leaders to run, said he was swayed by the prospect that “the outcome in Florida could determine control of the Senate.”

“That means the future of the Supreme Court will be determined by the Florida Senate seat,” he said. “It means the future of the disastrous Iran nuclear deal will be determined by the Florida Senate seat. It means the direction of our country’s fiscal and economic policies will be determined by this Senate seat.”

Rubio also took a swipe at both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, saying that “no matter who is elected president, there is reason for worry.”

He said Clinton would continue President Obama’s “failed” economic and foreign policies. As for Trump, Rubio’s former presidential primary foe, the senator said he had “significant disagreements” with the Republican nominee, particularly with regard to his “unacceptable” comments about women and minorities.

“If he is elected, we will need senators willing to encourage him in the right direction, and if necessary, stand up to him,” Rubio said. “I’ve proven a willingness to do both.”

Rubio also conceded that by changing his mind about seeking re-election, “my opponents will try to use this decision to score political points against me.”

“Have at it, because I have never claimed to be perfect, or to have all the answers.”

Recent polls have shown Rubio running strongest against both of the two major Democrats in the race, U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter and Alan Grayson of Orlando. A recent Quinniapiac University poll, taken before Rubio entered the race, showed him with a 7 point lead over Murphy and an 8 point lead over Grayson, with none of the other Republicans leading in head-to-head match-ups with the Democrats.

Rubio’s entry has scrambled what had been a five-way battle for the Republican nomination. DeSantis, López-Cantera and U.S. Rep. David Jolly have now all departed, leaving Carlos Beruff, a real estate developer from Manatee County, and Todd Wilcox, a defense contractor and former CIA agent from Windemere.

Beruff slammed Rubio’s decision to “break his pledge to the people of Florida.”

“This isn’t Marco Rubio’s seat; this is Florida’s seat,” Beruff said in a statement. “The power brokers in Washington think they can control this race. They think they can tell the voters of Florida who their candidates are. But the voters of Florida will not obey them.”

Report: López-Cantera will step aside if Marco Rubio changes his mind about the Senate

Florida’s lieutenant governor tells Politico he has urged Rubio to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election

florida mugMIAMI (CFP) — Just days before qualifying is set to begin in Florida’s U.S. Senate primary, Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera has disclosed that if U.S. Senator Marco Rubio decides to run for re-election, he will end his own Senate campaign.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera

López-Cantera, who got into the Senate race at Rubio’s urging, tells Politico that when he met Rubio at the scene of the Orlando nightclub massacre, he urged Rubio to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election in 2016.

Rubio has been under increasing pressure from Republican Senate leaders to reverse course and run again. But his longtime personal and political friendship with López-Cantera has been seen as an obstacle to any Rubio candidacy.

Rubio gave up his seat to make an unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination and has insisted repeatedly that he will not be a Senate candidate. But Florida’s relatively late party primaries, at the end of August, have left him a window of time to change his mind.

Qualifying ends June 24, giving Rubio a little more than a week to make a final decision.

Rubio is seen as the strongest Republican candidate in the Senate race, which Democrats are trying to capture to wrest Senate control away from the GOP. López-Cantera and three Republican rivals have been battling for the nomination; the lieutenant governor is the only one of them who has won statewide.

There has also been speculation that another GOP Senate candidate, U.S. Rep. David Jolly of St. Petersburg, will also abandon the race and instead seek re-election to his 13th District House seat.

Jolly opted to take a pass on defending his House seat after a court-ordered redistricting added Democratic voters to what had been a swing district. However, the likely Democratic nominee for that seat is former Governor Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat who lost statewide races in 2010 and 2014.

As the incumbent, Jolly would be in the best position to thwart the political resurrection of Crist, a man roundly despised in Republican circles.

The other Republicans in the Senate race include Carlos Beruff, a real estate developer from Manatee County, and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who represents a Jacksonville area House district.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter and Alan Grayson of Orlando are battling for their party’s nomination.

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