THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: Rivera Congress Bid Official, but Mario Diaz-Balart Better Known

Feb 25, 2010

THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA published this article on February 25, 2010.

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Feb. 25, 2010…….Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, made his expected entry Thursday into the Congressional District 25 race to replace fellow Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, who plans to switch districts to run for the safer seat being vacated by his brother Lincoln.

But Rivera’s entry in the race was met by a poll showing him to be less well-known in the sprawling South Florida district than a possible opponent for the Republican nomination he is pursuing: state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla.

Rivera announced his candidacy at press conferences in Miami and Naples Thursday. At the same time a poll of 300 Republicans showed 26 percent more people knew about Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami. But Rivera said he was not worried about any potential opponents.

“I’m not going to be discussing other candidacies now or throughout this campaign,” Rivera told the News Service of Florida between press conferences. “I’m going to focus on my plans for the district and for the nation. I announced I was running because of my record of public service in the community and in the state. I’ve spent my entire adult in public service, fighting for education, jobs and national security.”

Texas polling firm Hill Research Consulting confirmed to the News Service that it had polled on the name identification of six candidates thought to be likely contenders for the congressional seat, though the firm declined to say on whose behalf the survey was conducted. The poll showed that 67 percent knew Diaz de la Portilla, while only 41 percent said the same of Rivera.

The firm also polled on Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez, who topped both Diaz de la Portilla and Rivera in name recognition at 68 percent. Other candidates who have also expressed interest in running for the younger Diaz-Balart’s seat – U.S. Sen. George LeMieux’s state director Carlos Curbelo, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez and Miami Lakes Mayor Mike Pizzi – were also surveyed, drawing 32 percent, 29 percent and 22 percent respectively.

The firm has often polled in the 25th district, usually for U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, whose retirement announcement triggered the dominoes that lead Rivera to shift from running to replace term-limited state Sen. Alex Villalobos. Rivera’s decision makes his former opponent in that race, Rep. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, as the frontrunner to replace Villalobos in the state Senate.

Rivera had raised $1 million in that earlier state Senate bid, but he won’t be able to take all of that into the congressional race because of federal election law requirements.

Rivera pointed to the state House district he currently represents as giving him an edge over other candidates who are considering the race. State House District 112 includes stretches from Miami-Dade in the east to Collier County in the west, leading Rivera to say that he “represented both sides of the district, working along with Mario Diaz-Balart.”

However, Rivera’s entry into the race received a chilly reaction from Diaz de la Portilla, whose Senate district is contained entirely in Miami-Dade County. Diaz de la Portilla said that he was “humbled by the grassroots support” he received encouraging him to enter the race, and chided Rivera for switching to the federal election “on the eve of the legislative session.”

“When you have chosen a life in public service, there is a time to govern and a time for politics,” he said in a statement provided to the News Service. “I take very seriously the responsibility that has been entrusted to me by the voters in my district and I am focusing on the problems facing our state.”

Saying those problems trumped his political ambition, Diaz de la Portilla said “it would be unfair to Floridians for me to take my focus off finding real solutions to the problems we are facing and instead turn my attention to my next campaign or career opportunity.” 

“Florida currently has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, we are in the midst of a severe housing crisis and facing a more than $3 billion budget deficit,” he said. “As Senate Majority Leader, these issues weigh heavily on my shoulders each and every day because I know how they impact families and small businesses across our state.  As I continue the process of deciding whether to seek higher office, I will not make my decision based on the artificial pressures of time or the actions of others.” 

But Diaz de la Portilla was not too far above the political fray to reference the poll in response to the news that Rivera was in the race, saying “David has some catching up to do.”