Ros-Lehtinen draws challenger in Florida

The final spot in a South Florida fight pitting three longtime GOP incumbents against Democratic challengers will fall into place this week with businesswoman Annette Taddeo’s announcement that she will challenge Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

The Colombia-born Taddeo is expected to hold a press conference announcing her candidacy on Thursday. She told The Miami Herald over the weekend that she would challenge Ros-Lehtinen.

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David Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report, said the best metaphor for the three races is a fightnight boxing card.

Taddeo’s contest with Ros-Lehtinen, a 10-term incumbent and one of three Cuban-American Republicans whom Democrats
hope to unseat, is the lightweight bout on the ticket, he said.

At the top of the ticket is the heavyweight match-up between Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Raul Martinez, the longtime mayor of Hialeah who announced his long-awaited entry to the race in late January. Martinez is a popular but controversial figure who was once indicted on corruption charges. Martinez successfully appealed the indictments.

Last week, Miami-Dade County Democratic Chairman Joe Garcia announced he will take on Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Lincoln’s brother. Wasserman describes this as the middleweight bout of the three contests.

Jeff Garcia, a Democratic political strategist, said Taddeo’s entry into the race means Democrats for the first time will have three strong candidates to run against the GOP incumbents, all Cuban émigrés who have taken a hard line against the regime of Fidel Castro.

“We’ve never fielded legitimate candidates against all three,” said Jeff Garcia.

Democrats think the changing demographics in South Florida, which has brought more non-Cuban Hispanic voters to the area, could give them a boost.

They have also tried to portray the three incumbents as out of touch with younger Cuban-Americans.

TheCook Political Report, however, doesn’t list any of the seats as in jeopardy. “We don’t see it there yet,” Wasserman said.
All three districts have more registered Republicans than Democrats, and Wasserman noted that the presidential
election year could be an advantage for the incumbents because Republicans are likely to come to the polls to support their presidential candidate. The three challengers will have to win crossover voters and political independents to win.

Ros-Lehtinen has nearly $1.8 million for her reelection bid, according to Political-MoneyLine.com, which tracks fundraising numbers. She has raised $765,861 so far in this cycle. In 2006, she won with 62 percent of the vote, and in 2004, President Bush carried her district with 54 percent of the vote.

Wasserman said Ros-Lehtinen’s district may be the most favorable for Democrats because it extends to include Key West, a Democratic enclave.

Taddeo is the founder and chief executive officer of LanguageSpeak, a company offering translations, conference interpretation and private tutoring in over 100 languages. She is also a former chairwoman of the Coalition of Dade-County Chambers of Commerce and the Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Miami- Dade County. In 2004, she was national co-chairwoman of Businesswomen for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).