The National Republican Congressional Committee received some unwelcome news this week when longtime Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL- 27) announced that she would not be running for re-election in 2018. This was a blow to Republicans’ hopes in keeping the House majority as the seat is almost sure to flip to Democrats in 2018.
The district has been trending towards Democrats the last few elections, but the well-liked moderate Ros-Lehtinen was able to hold on despite Obama and Clinton winning the district by double digits in recent years. Ros-Lehtinen, who was first elected in 1989, is the dean of the Florida delegation, was the first Cuban American elected to Congress and is currently the most senior Republican woman in the U.S. House.
Many of her stances throughout her years in Congress have put her at odds with the Republican Party, including her support for immigration reform and same sex marriage. She also strongly opposes the American Health Care Act, as she has the unique distinction of representing the congressional district with the most constituents that are covered through the ACA exchange.
However, she is a foreign policy hawk and eventually became the first Hispanic woman to chair the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. She earned the ire of many dictators around the world, including the late Fidel Castro, who nicknamed her “la loba feroz” or “the big bad she-wolf.” Her unconventional positions for a Republican member allowed her to continue winning re-election in a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 37% to 34%. Nearly 29% of the voters are registered as third or no party affiliation.
Ros-Lehtinen is an institution in South Florida politics, having connections to several future major Republican players, including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who was her first campaign manager, and Senator Marco Rubio, who interned for the congresswoman.
The local Republican Party is looking for a candidate similar to Ros-Lehtinen, but that candidate may be a unicorn as the party has shifted further to the right. GOP insiders believe the candidate most like Ros-Lehtinen is former Miami-Dade School Board Member Raquel Regalado, who is a social moderate and refused to say whether she voted for President Donald Trump. She is also the well-known daughter of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, a strong vocal opponent of President Trump.
Many political operatives do not believe that the national GOP apparatus will get behind a moderate candidate like Regalado, since many expect several conservative candidates to enter the field such as Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera, state Representative Jeanette Nunez, and state Senator Anitere Flores.
With Democrats odds of winning the seat higher, the list of potential candidates is expected to be much longer. Local democratic operatives are already talking up state Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, who has a record of winning tough local races. Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez is another strong possibility and has already been contacted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for a possible run.
However the primaries shake out, Democrats look to be in the driver's seat to flip this district while Republicans will be playing defense in trying to hold on to this seat without the power of incumbency.
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