What is it like to run for Congress against Debbie Wasserman Schultz?
Joe Kaufman, the Republican congressional candidate in Florida’s 23rd District facing off against Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, tells National Review Online, “I truly believe I will win this.”
Kaufman, a 44-year-old professional political activist, won the August 26 GOP primary with 63 percent of the vote. If he wins in November, he would be transformed overnight into a Republican conquering hero, locally, nationally, and especially in Washington. After all, Wasserman Schultz is not your average member of Congress. She is the polarizing, gaffe-prone and currently embattled chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
People in the know doubt Kaufman can pull off a victory. “Even with her history of gaffes and missteps, Joe Kaufman needs a miracle in this district to catch Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and it simply isn’t going to happen,” Kevin Derby, Senior Political Writer for the respected Florida political website, Sunshine State News, tells National Review Online. “This is a district where Democrats have an almost 2-to-1 registration advantage over Republicans and most voters simply aren’t following what Wasserman Schultz said about Scott Walker or her problems leading the DNC.”
Wasserman Schultz’s 23rd District is gerrymandered in a way that defies geographic and community logic to produce that 2-to-1 registration ratio. Wasserman Schultz’s congressional website poetically describes the district “from the saw grass to the sea grass.”
In non-Floridian terms, that translates west from the Everglades heading east to the Atlantic Ocean. Then, to ensure an over-abundance of Democrat voters and extra sea cash, the district heads south to a narrow barrier island known as Miami Beach.
In 2012, Wasserman Schultz won reelection for the fifth time with 63.2 percent of the vote. This November, the respected Cook Political Report projects her victory to be by a nine-point margin,
But Joe Kaufman rejects the conventional wisdom.
“People mistake her high name-ID for popularity,” Kaufman says. “Wasserman Schultz is a huge figure nationally, but locally, she has stepped on toes.”
Kaufman continues, “This year Democrats have no reason to come out and vote, and if they do, it will be to support Republicans.” Kaufman bases that prediction on his door-to-door conversations with Democrat voters. He says voters who over the years have consistently supported Wasserman Schultz are now having a change of heart. “I never hear the words, ‘I like Debbie Wasserman Schultz,’ Kaufman says. “There is no passion for her, only passion against her.”
Kaufman’s optimism is based on inroads he has made “peeling off votes” from members of the two largest ethic groups in the district, Jewish and Hispanic residents.
And there is another important variable at play. According to Kaufman, turnout could be especially low because the top two ballot races — the race for governor and Wasserman Schultz’s congressional re-election — generate little enthusiasm.
In a move that perpetuates Florida’s reputation for political wackiness, Charlie Crist, a one-time very popular former Republican Governor, is now running as a Democrat against the current and not-very popular Republican governor, Rick Scott.
The Scott-Crist faceoff is the most contentious of all the nation’s gubernatorial races this cycle with the exception of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s re-election bid. No surprise that Hillary Clinton will be in Miami October 2 for a Crist fundraiser and Wasserman Schultz will be front and center hoping to benefit from the media after-glow.
Wasserman Schultz should be concerned about the likelihood that low Democrat turnout might hurt Crist’s election prospects, and that the subsequent down-ballot fall-off might harm her sixth reelection bid.
In addition to the potentially negative effects stemming from the gubernatorial race, Kaufman thinks he holds an edge over Wasserman Schultz due to the unpopularity of Obamacare. Kaufman says he used to be “accused of telling false information about the effects of Obamacare” but now has been vindicated by the district’s mostly Democrat voters, who are not pleased with how they have fared under President Obama’s signature program.
Although Kaufman is convinced he will be the next congressman from Florida’s 23rd district, he has yet to persuade Republican Party chieftains in Washington — and he says they have not offered him any support or funding.
The race “is not a priority with the National Republican Congressional Committee,” Kaufman tells NRO, but that has not stopped him from formulating an innovative argument to earn the party’s support.
Kaufman hopes to persuade the NRCC that if Wasserman Schultz were forced to focus more attention on her own reelection bid, that would reduce the time she could spend in her capacity as DNC Chairwoman, raising money and traveling to whip up support for embattled Democratic candidates. Distracting Wasserman Schultz with a real fight at home base might just help the GOP win control of the Senate, according to Kaufman’s pitch.
Though the NRCC has yet to buy that logic, Kaufman believes all the “anti-Debbie national stuff is weighing her down.”
No debates have been scheduled, but Kaufman says he is pushing to make that happen.
Even without debates, Kaufman is very proud of his efforts, saying that this is the first election where Wasserman Schultz “has been challenged”. The proof Kaufman offers is that Wasserman Schultz mentions his name “in her e-mails and speeches.”
“Kaufman is a scrappy campaigner who will take the fight to her, but Wasserman Schultz has the edge when it comes to name recognition, constituent outreach, fundraising, and organization,” Sunshine State’s Derby tells NRO. “This is a secure Democratic district and Wasserman Schultz’s recent problems aren’t nearly enough to come close to sinking her. She’ll win big in November.”
But Kaufman is undeterred. “When I win I will not be surprised,” he says. “Remember that guy who won against Eric Cantor; people said he had no chance too.”
— Myra Adams is a media producer and political writer. She was on the 2004 Bush campaign’s creative team and the 2008 McCain campaign’s ad council. Her writing credits include PJ Media, the Daily Beast, RedState, and the Daily Caller.