Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Politics

GOP operative Ana Navarro a warrior for the cause

WASHINGTON — Ana Navarro, a blunt and sometimes outrageous GOP operative from Coral Gables, sounded miserable last month amid Washington's frigid winter, running around in her Jimmy Choo heels between CNN appearances and gala parties surrounding the president she wanted to defeat.

"Whoever invented Spanx should be hired by CIA to run Enhanced Torture Methods," @ananavarro tweeted. "I might die of asphyxia before I get to Latino Ball."

Navarro, 41, lacks much of a filter.

It's a trait that makes her a sought-after voice in Republican politics and an adviser for any presidential hopeful. She often drives her own party bananas, but with confidants Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio she is poised to play a big role in the GOP response to immigration reform and Hispanic outreach.

"One minute she can be the most attractive person and the next very disagreeable," said a chuckling Sen. John McCain, a close friend of Navarro's and her boss during his 2008 presidential campaign. "She's plainspoken and she loves controversy — whatever the topic may be, whether it's Mitt Romney's problems or John McCain's problems."

Long a behind-the-scenes political player, Navarro these da ys is often showing off her frankness and impeccable fashion style on cable TV. Last year, CNN and CNN en Espanol hired her as a political analyst.

"I get paid to talk politics, which I've done my entire life and I would do for free anyway," she marvelled.

Navarro stands out for her willingness to criticize fellow Republicans. She was the first prominent Florida Republican to attack Gov. Charlie Crist for endorsing the $700-billion stimulus plan. ("If they got Charlie Crist in a dark alley, all you'd have left is a tuft of white hair," Navarro said of Republicans in Congress unwilling to say so themselves.)

In 2010, she rescinded her support for gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum after he shifted hard right on immigration. And in November, after seeing the long voter lines in Miami, she called Gov. Scott directly to urge him to extend early voting.

She repeatedly criticized the Romney campaign's outreach to Hispanic voters as anemic or invisible ("Mitt Romney self-deported himself from the White House," she tweeted on election night), prompting horrified Romney officials to press Navarro's friends to persuade her to zip her trap. Those who knew her best didn't bother.

"I knew it was a waste of time," said Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union and a longtime friend of Navarro's from Miami. "Ana has a passion about her, and she's not going to be intimidated or coerced into doing anything other than what's right in her mind."

• • •

In the 1980s, the first-year law student at University of Miami campaigned for aid to the Contras in her native Nicaragua. The daughter of a well-off family in the agriculture business — her father was an early opponent of Anastasio Somoza who went on to fight against leftist revolutionaries — she moved to Miami at age 8 to escape the violence.

"I became a Republican before I knew what a Republican even was because of Ronald Reagan," she said, recalling the president's solidarity with the Contra counterinsurgency fighting the Sandinistas.

Before long, she was showing up at GOP meetings, speaking out on Miami's Cuban radio shows, organizing and attending political rallies, and working with a young Jeb Bush to help Nicaraguan immigrants remain in America. Her activism and force of personality helped raise Navarro's profile in a city whose politics were dominated by Cubans.

She served on Gov. Bush's transition team in 1998, and served as ambassador to the United Nation's Human Rights Commission, devoting much of her energy to condemning human rights violations in Cuba.

In 2008 she served as national co-chair of McCain's Hispanic Advisory Council, and in 2012 served as national Hispanic co-chair for Jon Huntsman's presidential campaign.

"She's incredibly loyal, which is a rarity in this business. I can't imagine being involved in a campaign without her being involved as a warrior princess," said Republican consultant John Weaver, who worked with Navarro on the McCain and Huntsman campaigns. "Yes, she can drive people crazy with her honesty, but she's usually right."

Navarro describes herself as a fiscal conservative, foreign policy hawk, who is also "a pro-gay rights, pro-immigration reform Republican who believes in climate change." She is pals with many Democrats, from Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to former Al Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile.

"Ana's the kind of person who will ask you about your personal business in front of strangers," said former Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami. "When I see her I'm always saying, 'Ana, I'm not going to talk about that. I don't even know most of the people at this table.' "

• • •

Most any candidate eyeing a presidential bid makes a call to Navarro for her straight take.

"Ana speaks the truth and she is willing to speak the truth to power without reservation . . . She has the ear of lots of elected officials," said Republican consultant Brett O'Donnell, another longtime friend who worked on Michele Bachmann's 2012 presidential campaign.

Helping develop her vast stable of prominent political friends is Navarro's longtime significant other, Gene Prescott, a Democratic fundraiser who owns the grand Biltmore hotel in Coral Gables, which hosts more Democratic and Republican political fundraisers than most any address in America. And she's tight with two of the brightest lights in the national GOP — Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

When almost no Republicans in Florida would give Rubio any hope of beating Crist in a U.S. Senate primary, Navarro urged him on and regularly attacked the governor as a paper tiger.

"I'll always be grateful to Ana for believing in my Senate campaign from the beginning," said Rubio.

Reporters and politicians constantly ask about her pals.

"It's interesting, though, how everybody is much more interested in whether I think Jeb will run for president than Marco," Navarro confided recently in Washington, nibbling on a seafood salad after a meeting with Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio.

Who would she prefer to run for president? "I love Marco Rubio, and I love Jeb Bush. But I've loved Jeb longer."

Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]

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