Wednesday, October 01, 2008

2 of 3 Cuban Republicans Vulnerable in South Florida

By Nathan L. Gonzales

At the beginning of each election cycle, Republican and Democratic campaign strategists are armed with a list of potential targets — based on anecdotes, possible challengers and carefully compiled statistics to make their case against supposedly vulnerable incumbents.

Not surprisingly, some targets turn into real opportunities while others simply don’t. In the case of three Republican-held seats in South Florida, the current state of the races is a mixed bag for Democrats.

Earlier this cycle, Democratic strategists declared all three Cuban Republicans in South Florida vulnerable, despite flimsy quantitative evidence to back up their assertion. They claimed that the growing non-Cuban Hispanic population in Florida's 18th, 21st and 25th districts, combined with voter registration trends, all favored the Democratic challengers.

Public and private polling now confirms that brothers Mario Diaz-Balart (R) and Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R) are in very competitive races, while Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) still looks very strong in her re-election bid.

After months of talk, a June 6-22 poll taken by the Democratic firm Bendixen & Associates and not conducted for a candidate showed Lincoln Diaz-Balart ahead of former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez (D) 41 percent to 37 percent in the 21st district. Diaz-Balart countered with his own June poll, conducted by Hill Research Consultants, which had him ahead by a more comfortable 48 percent to 36 percent margin.

A late-August SurveyUSA poll done for Roll Call gave Martinez a 48 percent to 46 percent edge. And more recent unreleased polling confirms the tightness of the race, as well as Martinez’s high unfavorable ratings.

Martinez’s high negative ratings, stemming from a somewhat tumultuous time as mayor, is one reason why one GOP strategist believes Mario Diaz-Balart may, in the end, be the most vulnerable of the three Cuban Republicans.

In June, a Bendixen poll showed him with a 44 percent to 39 percent lead over Miami-Dade County Democratic Chairman Joe Garcia (D), but more recent polling has not been made available.

Businesswoman Annette Taddeo’s (D) challenge to Ros-Lehtinen is decidedly more uphill than the other two districts, and a scenario for her victory has yet to materialize.

A Sept. 23-25 Research 2000 poll done for the liberal blog Daily Kos showed the Congresswoman with a 53 percent to 36 percent lead over Taddeo. Ros-Lehtinen had 49 percent favorable/37 percent unfavorable ratings, compared to 38 percent favorable/32 percent unfavorable for Taddeo. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was taking 37 percent in the presidential race against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the district, according to the poll.

The recent survey showed little movement from the June Bendixen poll where Ros-Lehtinen had a 58 percent to 31 percent advantage. Taddeo could end up mounting a stronger-than-expected challenge, but the time for viewing Ros-Lehtinen as a real target in 2008 appears to be coming to an end.

This story first appeared on on September 29, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.