The Florida 27th Congressional District should be an easy pick-up for Democrats this election cycle. A district that is 71 percent Hispanic and an open seat after incumbent Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced her intent to retire earlier this year. It’s also a district Hillary Clinton won with 59 percent of the vote, though it was much closer four years earlier when Barack Obama only garnered 53 percent.
So, why are we even talking about this race? Former UW-Madison Chancellor Donna Shalala is the Democrat nominee. Should she win, Shalala, 77, would be the second-oldest freshman member of Congress in history behind James Bowler of Illinois who won a special election in 1953.
Two recent internal polls show Shalala down or tied to Republican nominee Maria Elvira Salazar, a well-known former Spanish language television reporter. And that’s Shalala’s other problem: running in a majority-Hispanic district without speaking Spanish.
One poll done for the Salazar campaign shows the Republican leading 51-42, while an internal Democrat poll shows a statistical tie with Shalala leading 46-42. While initially rated as a “lean Democrat” district, these two polls have placed it firmly in the “toss-up” category and forces Democrats to spend money on a seat they thought was a lay-up. Democrats were counting on easy pick-ups like the Florida 27th to help them retake the House and spend resources in other seats. Spending money and time here takes that away from seats like the Wisconsin 1st that could flip to the Democrats with a concerted effort.