Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Politics

GOP sees Wasserman Schultz as face of the left

WASHINGTON — One of her potential Republican rivals recently depicted U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a spiked collar, calling her "Obama's attack dog." Another lost to the Democratic congresswoman by more than 22 percentage points just two years ago. Another was the butt of a joke on Comedy Central's Daily Show when he tried to explain the anti-Muslim group he heads.

Yet all see Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, as the polarizing Florida stand-in for President Barack Obama. That, along with the 2010 success of insurgent tea party candidates, fuels hopes they'll send her packing in November.

It won't be easy. Wasserman Schultz's 20th congressional district, which includes Broward and Miami-Dade counties, is dominated by Democrats. Under redistricting, it will become the 23rd congressional district and remain heavily Democratic.

"Absolutely, I'm tying Debbie Wasserman Schultz and President Obama 100 percent together," said Ozzie deFaria, who of the potential six Republicans in the race, has raised the most money. And who also put Wasserman Schultz in a dog collar on his campaign website.

Like deFaria, many of her opponents have traded on Wasserman Schultz's national standing to garner attention and raise money. DeFaria, for example, earned an endorsement from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Karen Harrington, who lost to Wasserman Schultz two years ago, said she's "making it a national campaign." Harrington snagged the endorsement of Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., as well as a nod from the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List Fund.

"We believe it's going to be a big race," Harrington said. "As DNC chair, she's been very outspoken against the Republicans. She speaks on behalf of the president and the liberal base of the party, and I think she has a message that's opposite of the conservative message."

Even so, she and the others haven't made any inroads when it comes to actually being elected out of one of the country's most Democratic districts.

It includes most of Broward County south of Interstate 595, and dips into coastal Miami-Dade County to Miami Beach. Its boundaries were tweaked this year to make it slightly friendlier to Republicans, but even so, 61 percent of its voters went for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink in 2010. Just 38 percent of the district went for McCain in 2008.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which is charged with electing as many Republicans as possible to the House of Representatives, also isn't hopeful about District 23. They acknowledge there's little they can do but be a nuisance to Wasserman Schultz, whose duties as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee will peak at the convention in Charlotte, N.C., late this summer.

"If there's the opportunity to get Debbie Wasserman Schultz to campaign at home in the fall, rather than raising money for other candidates, we certainly will," said Nathaniel Sillin, a spokesman for the NRCC.

Merely irritating the DNC chair in her hometown when she has national duties is a win, Republicans say, especially in a part of Florida that's also a source of considerable fundraising for the president.

Of the six Republicans who've indicated to the Federal Election Commission they want to do battle in the Aug. 14 primary to then face Wasserman Schultz in November, just three have raised more than $100,000: Harrington, deFaria and Joe Kaufman, who drew the satirical interest of the Daily Show.

Of those, only deFaria and Harrington have done the kind of organizational and fundraising work to merit consideration in the so-called Young Guns program, the NRCC's program to boost promising Republican congressional candidates.

None of the Republican candidates, however, have come close to matching Wasserman Schultz's $2.3 million in contributions. All have contributed their own money to their races. Wasserman Schultz has $1.7 million in cash on hand, according to FEC reports.

Wasserman Schultz, who declined an interview, hasn't faced serious opposition since she was first elected to the seat in 2004. So why are so many Republicans out to get her this year?

"She represents all of the liberal orthodoxy that you can think of on the left," said Richard DeNapoli, chairman of the Republican Party of Broward County. "She's symbolic. She is the Democratic Party, Obama's hand-picked leader of the DNC. To take her out is almost on par with defeating Obama himself."

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