Debbie’s Downfall?

By Jim Ellis

May 31, 2016
— Is Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL-23) headed for defeat in this year’s Democratic primary? Even though there has been a great deal of recent controversy swirling around the South Florida congresswoman, who is also the Democratic National Committee chair, the answer is no.

Among other issues breaking against her, the congresswoman is coming under major attack for, in Sen. Bernie Sanders’ words, “rigging” the election for Hillary Clinton. This charge relates to the presidential campaign rules vis-à-vis delegate apportionment and Super Delegates. Sanders supports his bias charge by reminding anyone who’ll listen that Wasserman Shultz was one of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign co-chairs back in 2008, thus highlighting the strong personal relationship between the two.

Wasserman Schultz is also facing resignation calls from her position as national party chair. Though no major Democratic leader has called for her resignation, virtually none have rallied to her defense, either. Instead, people like Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Leader-in-Waiting Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and to a large extent President Obama, simply refuse to make any comment about the situation.

Now, the national barbs are spilling over into her own US House re-nomination primary. Her major Democratic opponent, law professor Tim Canova, had already raised more than $1 million even before Sen. Sanders publicly endorsed him last week. Canova claims to have obtained an additional $250,000, mostly through Internet contributions, since receiving Sanders’ open support.

Facing a congressional primary is uncharted territory for the six-term incumbent. In fact, she has never been in one. Even when running for the 20th Congressional District for the first time in 2004, she was inexplicably unopposed for the party nomination in an open seat campaign. As an incumbent, she has never faced a Democratic opponent in her five re-election bids in Districts 20 and now 23 after the 2011 redistricting plan changed the CD number.

Before entering Congress, Wasserman Schultz spent eight years in the state House. In 1992, at 26 years old, she became the youngest woman ever elected to the Florida legislature. After the state term-limit law forced her retirement, she won election to the state Senate and served one four-year term.

While this is the most serious electoral challenge she has ever faced, the Canova campaign is still a long-shot effort irrespective of the attention the candidate is getting. The 23rd District largely remains intact, and her political base in Weston remains whole. The CD no longer contains any of Ft. Lauderdale or Miami Beach, but retains part of Hollywood, and the communities of Aventura, Dania Beach, Davie, Plantation and Pembroke Pines.

Most importantly, the 23rd strongly backed Clinton in the presidential primary conducted on March 15. Almost 70 percent of the district votes went to the former Secretary of State, so a Sanders-based challenge before a strong Clinton electorate will likely fall upon deaf ears.

As party chair and a well-known South Florida figure, Rep. Wasserman Schultz will have little trouble padding her own campaign account. Beginning with more than $800,000 in the bank, it is likely she will outspend Canova even though he is raising an impressive sum. Additionally, though President Obama has offered less than enthusiastic support for her, he will endorse her and she will use that verbal support as a major campaign asset.

The primary is Aug. 30, and it is very likely that we are witnessing the apex of the Canova challenge right now. Debbie Wasserman Schultz remains a clear favorite for re-nomination. In the end, she will win going away.

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