Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s surprise announcement that she’s quitting Congress has left the GOP with a needle-in-the-haystack problem: finding a socially moderate Republican in a party where they’re in short supply.
And even if Republicans find the right candidate for Ros-Lehtinen’s seat next year, there’s no guarantee he or she will run.
Because Florida’s 27th Congressional District is now such a deep shade of Democratic blue — Hillary Clinton carried it by nearly 20 percentage points last year — many Republican donors and conservative groups won’t be keen on financing what could be a hopeless mission to keep the seat in GOP hands, with the 2018 House map set to include numerous other districts where the party’s chances are better. The 27th District was considered relatively defensible for Republicans as long as Ros-Lehtinen, an icon in Miami politics who beat her Democratic challenger last year by about 10 points, stayed.
In the hours after Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement Sunday, the list of potential candidates grew, especially among energized Democrats. On the Republican side, few generated buzz among GOP insiders like former Miami-Dade school board member Raquel Regalado, a social moderate like the retiring congresswoman. She’s also the well-known daughter of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, a Republican who refused to vote for President Donald Trump last year because of his inflammatory comments about immigration. (Ros-Lehtinen, too, has had little good to say about the president.)
Raquel Regalado, who wouldn’t say whether she voted for Trump, said she’s strongly considering a bid for Ros-Lehtinen’s seat after getting deluged with calls. A self-proclaimed moderate who supports comprehensive immigration reform and abortion rights, she said she wants to know more about the National Republican Congressional Committee thinks.
“Will the Republican Party at a national level stand behind a moderate? That’s the question,” Regalado asked. “Will we continue to move to the right? Or is this an opportunity for the Republican Party at a national level to consider moderates as an option?”
Many of the other big name Miami Republicans considering a bid — Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, state Rep. Jeanette Núñez and state Sen. Anitere Flores — are more conservative than Regalado. And they all sound slightly less enthusiastic than she when it comes musing about a potential bid so early. Núñez, Flores and other state legislators say they’ll come to a decision about the race after the Florida lawmaking session ends Friday.
Because Democrats’ odds of winning the seat are higher, the list of potential candidates from their party is growing far longer. On Sunday, Florida Democratic insiders quickly began talking up the chances of state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, who has a record of winning tough races. Sixty…