Democrats turning Miami special election into Trump referendum

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Democrats are working to turn a Miami-area Florida Senate special election into a referendum on President Trump's drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a calculation that, should it pay off, could form the basis of the party's broader strategy in 2018.

  • Florida Senate District 40 Sept. 26 election
  • Democrats targeting GOP candidate for Trump association

Unlike several congressional special elections that have been held in Republican-leaning districts since the president took office in January, the contest in Florida Senate District 40 features a swing electorate, divided almost evenly between Democrats, Republicans and independents. Calling it a "spotlight race" that represents a barometer of voters' moods, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has devoted $150,000 to electing Annette Taddeo, a former congressional candidate and the party's nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014.

The committee is also mailing voters a barrage of fliers linking the Republican nominee, former state Rep. Jose Felix 'Pepe' Diaz, to President Trump. Diaz, a former contestant on Trump's "The Apprentice" TV show, campaigned for Trump and snapped a selfie with the then-president elect during January's inaugural festivities. The flier warns that Diaz "would bring Trumpcare to Florida -- and cost millions of Floridians their health care."

While the president and congressional Republicans came up short in their effort to remake the nation's health care system, Democratic strategists believe the issue will still resonate with middle class voters who have gained coverage under Obamacare. Senate District 40 boasts one of the nation's highest rates of enrollment in insurance exchanges.

But other Democrats are more dubious about the party's prospects in the Sept. 26 special election.

"If Democrats can't pull this out in a district that's in a swing state that is a swing district with Trump's approval ratings as they are, then it may send a message to Democrats, if it doesn't work out, that the anti-Trump message isn't enough and that they're going to have to give something to the voters a little bit more forward-looking," said Democratic consultant Kevin Cate.

Democrats also face an inherent disadvantage: special election turnout by the party's rank-and-file voters has historically been very low.

By informing voters that an election is taking place, however, the advertising blitz in the SD 40 race could help mitigate the numbers. Add a dose of anti-Trump enthusiasm, and a victory could be possible.

"It's just really going to be a test -- and everybody says it all comes down to the ground game -- but this is going to be a test. Are Democrats willing to put their anger where their votes are? We'll see," Cate said.