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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Miami race heats up as state representative challenges sitting senator



Democrat Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez today filed to run for a Miami seat in the Florida Senate this fall, setting up what could be one of the most hotly contested races this year.

The District 37 seat, which includes much of the city of Miami and the surrounding area, is currently held by Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who has filed for reelection.

From both campaigns, the common themes are emerging: education, infrastructure and a moderate style of politics.

In a campaign video released online today, Rodriguez centers his campaign around the American Dream and fighting for working families. In Tallahassee, he has pushed reforms to the death penalty and emphasizing property tax cuts over those targeting businesses.

“What’s going to position us in Miami to be better off economically for everyday working families?” he said.

Diaz de la Portilla has established himself as a moderate conservative. This year, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he blocked legislation expanding gun rights and targeting immigrants, and he gave a 10-year-old measure banning discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people its first-ever hearing in the Florida Legislature.

"Not only have I stopped a lot of crazy ideas that cleared the floor in the House," he said, "but I've also led the way in passing a lot of positive legislation."

Diaz de la Portilla calls himself a "common-sense" Republican and says he has gained support from a diverse group of racial, ethnic and party labels. First elected in 2010, the 53-year-old attorney ran unopposed in 2014. He and his family have been fixtures in Miami-Dade politics for decades.

Rodriguez, a 37-year-old attorney, has represented part of Miami in the Florida House since 2012, when he beat Alex Diaz de la Portilla, the senator’s brother and a former senator himself. In 2014, he beat a well-funded Republican opponent backed by Sen. Marco Rubio, former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

With all 40 state Senate seats up for grabs after the chamber agreed to redraw its unconstitutional maps, the balance of power in the Legislature is at stake this November. District 37 is heavily Hispanic and favors a Democrat. In 2012, it elected Barack Obama with 53.6 percent of the vote.

Diaz de la Portilla has raised just $17,000 so far this cycle, compared to Rodriguez’ $67,960. But both those numbers are sure to increase dramatically. Diaz de la Portilla raised more than $200,000 in the last election, in which he was unopposed.

[Last modified: Monday, March 14, 2016 6:20pm]


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