Crowded field fights to face Wasserman Schultz
By Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, May 17, 2012……There is already a scrum of candidates fighting to take on one of the most visible national Democrats in Florida: Democratic National Committee Chairwoman and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz.
At least six candidates have filed to run against Wasserman Schultz, though only three have raised more than $100,000 and another hasn’t filed any disclosure reports with the Federal Elections Commission. And all say they believe they have a chance to defeat the four-term congresswoman.
It seems an unlikely pick-up for Republicans. In 2008, President Barack Obama won almost 61.8 percent of the vote in the district against his Republican opponent, U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Democratic candidate Alex Sink carried almost 60.1 percent two years later, while three Democratic candidates for the Cabinet who got trounced statewide all won majorities in the 23rd.
But while they might differ over some policies, Republicans in the race share one belief: Wasserman Schultz’s position as DNC chair has made her more vulnerable than before, in part because she can be tied more closely to Obama and what the opponents said is his failure to jump-start the economy.
“If the economy was strong and Debbie Wasserman Schultz was not the head of the DNC, I wouldn’t be running,” said Ozzie deFaria, a political neophyte who’s one of the candidates for the seat.
And it appears to be drawing the attention of national Republicans. McCain has joined Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina and former Congressman J.C. Watts in endorsing deFaria.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that supports female conservatives, have backed Karen Harrington, who ran against Wasserman Schultz in 2010. Harrington also has the support of three current members of Florida’s congressional delegation.
Meanwhile, pizza magnate Herman Cain has dubbed deFaria and Joe Kaufman, the third Republican candidate in the race who’s raised more than $100,000, as members of his “Army of Davids” who back his 9-9-9 tax plan. Kaufman also has the backing of comedian Jackie Mason.
And deFaria and Harrington both touted fundraising efforts that have brought in money from 48 and 49 states, respectively. (Harrington needs only North Dakota; donors from South Dakota and Hawaii would round out the 50 for deFaria.)
For deFaria, who’s poured more than $273,000 of his own money into the race, according to the FEC, it’s a unique chance to knock off Wasserman Schultz. And part of that message is an implicit criticism of Harrington.
“We missed a golden opportunity in 2010, when Republicans swept the House. … No one’s been funded to challenge her and there’s never been a credible candidate,” he said.
He also knocks Harrington for straying from conservative orthodoxy, accusing her of supporting a pathway to citizenship for those in the country illegally and not strongly backing a plan by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that would overhaul Social Security and Medicare.
Wasserman Schultz is likely to try to use the Ryan plan as a bludgeon against her eventual opponent. Democrats have harped on the plan’s changes to Social Security and Medicare; in 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 27.2 percent of the district had earned Social Security income in the last year.
deFaria says he’s not scared.
“Right now, the Democrats, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and President Obama have no record to run on,” he said. “So what are you going to do? Scare tactics.”
Harrington said her hesitance about the Ryan plan is that it uses overall inflation to increase the size of payments to seniors to help them buy health insurance. Harrington said she would instead like to see the plan pegged to the cost of health-care inflation, which tends to be higher.
And she paints her experience of a short and somewhat haphazard first run against Wasserman Schultz — “I really just went by the seat of my pants” — as a positive now that she has had more time to fine-tune her approach.
“I have the experience of going up against her. I already have the name ID in the district,” she said.
Harrington has raised more than $235,000 to deFaria’s nearly $395,000, according to the FEC.
Kaufman, who has worked to expose Islamic groups he says traffic in hate, has raised more than $186,000.
Kaufman asked for questions to be emailed to him but did not respond.
Two other candidates, Gineen Bresso and Juan Eliel Garcia, have both raised less than $25,000. Carl Mathiesen hasn’t reported any contributions.
But even the front-runners’ war chests so far pale in comparison to Wasserman Schultz, who has already raised $2.3 million and had $1.7 million cash on hand as of March 31.
Even so, the candidates push forward, in part because they believe the stakes are high. ”If we don’t beat her this time,” Harrington said, “she’s never going to be beat.”