By Markos Moulitsas - 03/25/08 05:06 PM EDT
In early 2006, when Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida was quoted in a local newspaper praising Rep. E. Clay Shaw (R-Fla.), then-Democratic Congressional Committee (DCCC) Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) reacted with swift outrage at the betrayal of party efforts to retake the majority: “I’m getting a lecture on recruitment when a), you haven’t done a goddamn thing and b), we’ve got a [Republican] target and you’re out there kissing his ass in the press?”
Today, yet another Florida Democrat should be in the doghouse, as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is following suit, publicly and enthusiastically kissing Republican behind. “I can’t say enough good things about [Republican Rep.] Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; she has been my friend since I was first elected to office,” Wasserman Schultz gushed to the Miami Herald earlier this month.
Wasserman Schultz’s disloyalty is particularly jarring since she is co-chairwoman of the DCCC’s Red to Blue program, tasked with wrestling Republican seats into the Democratic column, while Ros-Lehtinen represents one of the three South Florida Republican House seats Democrats are seriously contesting for for the first time in decades. Given Emanuel’s stinging rebuke to Hastings in 2006, Wasserman Schultz should be relieved Emanuel is no longer chairman of the DCCC. Inexplicably, current Chairman Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) appears willing to giving her a pass.
At blame are tired Cuba politics. Wasserman Schultz has received strong support from right-wing organizations and individuals with interests in promoting a hard line against Cuba’s communist regime, from the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee to sugar agricultural interests. Last year, Wasserman Schultz made her right-wing donors and her Republican friends happy by quashing a Democratic attempt to ease draconian family travel, remittance and trade restrictions to Cuba in the House.
This is bad politics on the most basic level — the first rule of Latino politics is that you never come between them and their families.
In fact, it is exactly that family travel ban that has made those three South Florida House seats held by Republican Cuban-Americans suddenly competitive. Ros-Lehtinen is being challenged by businesswoman Annette Taddeo; Mario Diaz-Balart by former Cuban American National Foundation executive director Joe Garcia; and Lincoln Diaz-Balart by former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez. All three of those Democrats support easing the family travel restrictions. As Taddeo says, “My family values tell me family members shouldn’t be divided.”
There are other signs of Democratic resurgence in South Florida. In 2006, Democrats captured two Republican House seats in the region — those of Shaw (with Wasserman Schultz’s enthusiastic help) and Mark Foley. Last year, a Cuban-American Democrat won a rare open-state legislative seat in Ros-Lehtinen’s district. Democrats are closing the voter registration gap in the district, while independents nationwide are leaning Democratic.
Meanwhile, led by younger Cuban-Americans and recent exiles, the area is less interested in isolating Cuba.
A recent Florida International University poll found that 65 percent of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade support dialogue with the Cuban government, up from 40 percent in 1991. Democratic polls in South Florida have found that Castro ranks low on the list of voter concerns.
About the brightest spot for those endangered Republicans is their ally inside the DCCC. Thanks to Wasserman Schultz’s “recusal,” her continued praise of GOP candidates in the media will continue to prop up these incumbents and their unpopular Cuba policies, as well as the broader failed Republican agenda.
Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos .