MIAMI — Seeing a chance for his party to pick up a seat in Congress, Democratic state Rep. Luis Garcia launched his campaign Wednesday to challenge U.S. Rep. David Rivera, a Republican.
Garcia, a retired Miami Beach fire chief and former city commissioner, told several dozen supporters at Tamiami Park in West Miami-Dade that he is running to help the middle class in Florida's 25th Congressional District, where he said he lived for 31 years until 1999.
Garcia spoke from a podium under a festive arch of red, white and blue balloons, but he struck a somber tone during his 20-minute speech — a departure from typical campaign inaugurations.
"This was a successful, middle-class district," he said. But now, Garcia argued, "that American Dream has disappeared. The American family has been under attack. The middle class has been under attack."
Garcia is the first candidate to run against Rivera, a freshman whose personal and campaign finances have been under investigation since before his election last year to fill the seat formerly held by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who switched districts.
Rivera posted anemic fundraising numbers last week, a sign that the wide-ranging probe is taking its toll on the once-prolific fundraiser.
When asked if he is running next year, and what he thinks about Garcia's challenge, Rivera responded with an e-mail from his congressional re-election campaign.
"I look forward next year to the voters contrasting my fiscally responsible approach toward creating jobs and improving the economy with the failed economic policies of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Luis Garcia and Joe Garcia," the statement said, referring to the president, the former House speaker and the opponent Rivera defeated last year, who is unrelated to Luis Garcia.
To underscore his electability, Garcia noted in his speech that the district he represents in the Florida House — a coastal swath of Miami-Dade County from Miami Beach to Pinecrest — is a swing district that includes heavily Republican Little Havana. He also emphasized that he was recruited to run by national Democrats, who have unsuccessfully targeted the 25th district in the past two election cycles.
The district, which spans from western Miami-Dade County to eastern Collier County, leans Republican — though the mammoth district is likely to be redrawn in next year's decennial redistricting.
Garcia does not live in the district. Federal law does not require candidates or office holders to live in the districts they represent.
Still, Garcia, 65, noted his ties to the county's western suburbs, where he and his late wife raised their three sons. Garcia has since remarried and also has a stepson.
In his remarks, Garcia made a point to mention immigration reform. In Tallahassee, Garcia, who was born in Cuba and came to the United States as a teenager, was known for wearing his American passport around his neck to protest laws proposing that immigrants carry their identification papers.
"I might speak with an accent," Garcia said, but added, "I am an American by choice … not an American by chance."
Garcia's move will create an opening in his state House district, since he will not be able to seek re-election next year while running for Congress.