Rivera’s the wildcard in Tuesday’s District 26 primary

MIAMI – Tuesday is Election Day in Florida. The District 26 congressional primary is an important one for anyone who follows the Cuba issue. Republicans in that area, which encompasses parts of southwest Miami-Dade and all of Monroe County (Key West), will choose who will challenge incumbent Miami democrat Joe Garcia in November.

This primary race is a good one. Garcia is finishing up his first term in the U.S. Congress. He is not yet entrenched in a district that has elected republicans in the past. And the republican primary has produced interesting challengers who have assertively campaigned for the opportunity to knock off Garcia. The race seems to be coming down to Carlos Curbelo, a very well financed former school board member, and feisty Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall.

Curbelo has become the republican darling in this race, receiving the support of Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Diaz-Balarts and others of the local Cuban-American republican loop. Curbelo is also counting on a substantial amount of Republican Party money in a race that is considered a toss up by political pundits around the country. It’s a seat republicans lost in 2012 and want back.

Attempting to take the republican mantle from Curbelo is MacDougall, who was not very well known countywide before this election. His aggressive style prompted him to make an issue of the fact that he is the only candidate, of the five running in this race, who does NOT have a Spanish surname. This tidbit of information seems to have lifted his candidacy to the point some speculate that an upset is possible.

MacDougall has attacked Curbelo for having backed Charlie Crist during the senatorial race of 2010.
MacDougall has attacked Curbelo for having backed Charlie Crist during the senatorial race of 2010.

MacDougall has also attacked Curbelo for having backed Charlie Crist during the senatorial race of 2010 when Crist lost to Sen. Marco Rubio. (There’s a photo circulating that proves it.) Interestingly, of the republican heavyweights who have sided with Curbelo, you don’t see the name Marco Rubio.

But there’s a wildcard in this race. Also running in District 26 is the man who lost to Joe Garcia in 2012, David Rivera.

Rivera seems to be getting to the point in his life when the future should be decided for him – by the federal authorities who have not indicted him (yet) but have named him a co-conspirator in a case involving a former political ally, Ana Alliegro, who this week changed her plea and admitted guilt to a host of serious campaign finance violations.

But this fact has yet to deter Rivera from running – although midway through the election he announced to the press that he was withdrawing from the race. The wily Rivera later appeared again without any major announcement, when voters in District 26 started receiving telephone calls from his electoral campaign. Many believe Rivera’s stealth campaign was formulated on purpose to avoid questions about his legal problems. And there are republicans who fear it may work. As a former U.S. representative from that district, he is the most recognizable name of the five on the ballot. In a low turnout election, which many expect, name recognition is oftentimes the trump card to winning.

Two others also running on Tuesday are a former Miami-Dade county commissioner, Joe Martinez, whose commission district overlapped parts of the congressional one, and an ex-cop, Lorenzo Palomares Starbuck.

Let me emphasize that Curbelo is the favorite to win this thing. It may be closer than he had hoped for though. The fact that not many are expected to vote, and that there are at least four recognizable names on the ballot, makes every single vote cast important. One last point of interest that makes this even harder to call: In Florida you don’t need a majority to win this type of election; the highest vote getter receives the nod.

Now one last scenario to leave you with: David Rivera wins the primary. And is indicted a few days later…