Oct 26, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Democrat flips socialist charge in Little Havana

Democratic challenger Annette Taddeo and US Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL) side-by-side in two different photos.

Democratic challenger Annette Taddeo (L) and Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) Photo: Manny Hernandez/Getty Images; Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A Democratic challenger in a crucial South Florida U.S. House race is accusing her Republican opponent of embracing socialism by pushing to ban books and abortion — flipping the script on an attack typically leveled against her own party.

Why it matters: Perceptions of a soft or sympathetic stance toward socialism carry extra punch in Florida, an increasingly red-leaning state where communities of Cuban and Venezuelan expatriates represent a significant voting bloc.

What's happening: Freshman GOP Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) is still favored to win in Florida's 27th congressional district, but is on the defensive after missteps, exaggerations, and charges of hypocrisy led to a polling surge for her Democratic opponent, state Sen. Annette Taddeo.

  • "This election will determine if we remain a beacon of freedom or we become a socialist dictatorship," Taddeo said in an ad last month, in which she cited her family's escape from Marxist guerrillas in Colombia.
  • The race between two Hispanic women is a potential case study for Democrats seeking to counter a perennial GOP message that has eroded the party's standing in Florida.

The picture: The GOP's Congressional Leadership Fund has spent $2 million on TV advertising to defend the seat, making it one of the super PAC's priciest reservations. The Cook Political Report recently moved the race from "likely Republican" to "lean Republican."

Zoom in: Salazar, the daughter of Cuban exiles and a former journalist, was recently ridiculed on social media for falsely claiming in a Fox News interview that she's "one of the founders of Spanish television, Univision and Telemundo."

  • The Colombian-born Taddeo, a moderate Democrat, has also seized on an interview Salazar conducted with the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in which the Republican called Castro "comandante."
  • Taddeo has received feeble support from national Democrats, but recently earned the endorsement of Al Cárdenas, a former chair of the Republican Party of Florida and a Cuban American activist.

What they're saying: "When you are telling a woman what she can and cannot do, and that she has to ask for permission of the government ... that is not freedom," Taddeo told Axios while attacking Salazar's anti-abortion position.

  • Banning books, even if you disagree with the content, is what communist regimes in Cuba and the former Soviet Union did — and it's something Salazar embraces, Taddeo alleged.
  • Taddeo said her counteroffensive against socialism should be used as an example for Democrats.

Reality check: Salazar has said little about school boards in Florida banning books about people of color and LGBTQ issues. The state has the second-highest number of school-related book bans in the country, according to an analysis published by PEN America.

Between the lines: The race remains Salazar's to lose thanks to the broader Republican-friendly climate in Florida, according to Sean D. Foreman, a Barry University political science professor who lives in the district.

  • "I think what's going on in this district is close on paper. It's really the only possible toss-up race after the recent redistricting in Florida."
  • Tying Salazar to socialism has picked up traction in a district that includes the historic Cuban American Miami neighborhood of Little Havana, but it may not be enough to fight off the GOP wave, Foreman said.
  • CLF recently ran a 30-second ad in the Miami area saying Taddeo supports "socialist-style spending that could bankrupt the country."

Be smart: The district, once represented by Cuban American moderate Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, has seen a rise in Puerto Rican and Colombian American residents who could play a decisive role in this swing district.

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