Dems land top recruit for Ros-Lehtinen's Florida district

Dems land top recruit for Ros-Lehtinen's Florida district
© Greg Nash

A top Democratic recruit has officially jumped into the race to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez (D) expressed interest in running for the Miami-area district a few months back, but officially launched his campaign on Wednesday, joining a crowded field for the seat that Ros-Lehtinen has represented since 1989.

The district is a top target for Democrats in next year's midterm elections, and Rodríguez is considered one of Democrats’ top recruits for the seat, given his tenure in Florida's statehouse and record of winning highly contested elections.

Rodríguez said he’s talked with many Democrats in the state as well as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the House Democrats’ campaign arm.

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“My track record of public service I think is really central to why I’m running,” Rodríguez told The Hill in an interview.

Rodríguez, a Cuban-American lawyer, has served in Florida’s statehouse since 2012. He’s successfully run in some of Florida’s most competitive state races, winning two terms in Florida’s House of Representatives. He now serves in the state Senate.

“All three of those races were among the most competitive general election races in the state,” Rodríguez said.

“As I look at the issues that I’ve worked on behalf of my constituents at the state legislature, they are just as important in Congress,” he continued, adding that he’ll prioritize issues like access to affordable healthcare as well as addressing the rise in sea level and climate change.

He condemned President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement, arguing that it’s not only a setback for the environment for future generations, but also “bad policy when it comes to our economy.”

Rodríguez isn’t the only Democrat eying the seat.

Other Democratic candidates include Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person. A few other Democrats have expressed interest in mounting a campaign.

Businessman Scott Fuhrman (D), who ran against Ros-Lehtinen in 2016, dropped out of the race earlier this month.

“I feel very much ready for the campaign ahead, the primary and the general,” Rodríguez said. “It’s a crowded field. This is a seat that has been held for decades. I welcome [a primary] to the extent it helps make sure that there’s a vigorous dialogue for the voters.”

Several Republicans are also running, including former school board member Raquel Regalado, Miami-Dade County commissioner Bruno Barreiro and Maria Peiro, who unsuccessfully ran against Ros-Lehtinen in the 2016 primary.

According to the Miami Herald, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Jeb Bush Jr., son of former presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), were urged to run for the seat.

Ros-Lehtinen’s surprise decision to retire has given Democrats a prime opportunity to flip a seat in 2018, and it prompted election handicappers like Sabato’s Crystal Ball to change the rating of that district from “likely Republican” to “leans Democrat.” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: Trump's exclusive interview with Hill.TV | Trump, intel officials clash over Russia docs | EU investigating Amazon | Military gets new cyber authority | Flynn sentencing sparks new questions about Mueller probe READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV Keeping up with Michael Avenatti MORE carried the district by more than 20 points in 2016

Democrats have an uphill battle to retake the House majority, as they'll need to flip 24 seats.