Miami state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez announced Wednesday that he would drop out of the crowded Democratic Primary race in Florida’s 27th Congressional District.
“My time in public office was borne of community-based work here in Miami, standing up for everyday people. My service in the Legislature has been no different, tackling tough issues and trying to give everyday families a seat at the table,” Rodriguez said in a statement.
“Following Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen’s announced retirement, I received calls from constituents and community leaders wanting to make sure that this community has the representation it deserves. I remain committed to achieving real action on gun control, sea level rise, healthcare, education and so many other issues affecting our everyday lives and the brighter future we hope to leave to our children that now more than ever require champions.
“That fight is just as important here in Florida as in Washington. Right now we have an historic opportunity to bring progressive change to the Florida Legislature, with Democrats poised to make real gains in the Florida Senate in particular.
“That is why today I reaffirm to constituents here in District 37 that I will continue to serve as their State Senator and battle the status quo of Tallahassee politics. To do this I will formally end my candidacy for Congress. Instead our efforts will focus on helping elect progressive allies here in Miami-Dade and all over Florida that can bring that desperately needed action to Tallahassee.”
In a statement released alongside Rodriguez’ announcement, Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon said the first-term state Senator “is the epitome of a true public servant and he is always doing what’s best for the community he has long fought for and represented.”
“I am excited that his service in the state senate will continue, and his commitment to helping us elect more progressive champions to the Legislature will undoubtedly make 2018 one of the best cycles for Democrats.”
Sources close to Rodriguez’ campaign indicated earlier Wednesday that his exit from the race was imminent. Rodriguez was one of eight Democrats running for CD 27, which is opening up due to the retirement of longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The district is one of a handful of Republican-held congressional seats nationwide to be carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016.
If he had decided to stay in the race, JJR would have been among the first impacted by the newly reinstated “resign-to-run” law, which requires state elected officials to resign 10 days before qualifying in a federal race.
The qualifying period begins April 30 at noon.
Rodriguez won a four-year term when he was elected to Senate District 37 in the 2016 cycle, and if he had resigned the seat this month Democrats would face an additional tough battle in the fall.
JJR won SD 37 over Miguel Diaz de la Portilla by 3 points, so holding the seat wouldn’t be a given.
The price tag on such a race would likely be hard to swallow as well, especially since Democrats are looking to expand their map in 2018 and will likely need every nickel and then some to support insurgent campaigns in Republican-held districts such as SD 8, SD 18, and SD 24.
With all that on the table, the speed with which JJR was looking for an upgrade after the bruising 2016 campaign helped foment resentment among many major donors, labor groups and others who spent millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours getting him elected.
Still, Rodriguez’ congressional aspirations weren’t entirely quixotic.
Prior to University of Miami President Donna Shalala entering the race, he was the best known candidate and he had been competitive on the fundraising trail.
An internal poll put out team Shalala before her entry showed JJR with 10 percent support in the primary, which was good enough for the No. 2 spot behind Shalala. Without Shalala as an option, he was in the No. 1 spot with 16 percent support.
His name recognition, while not good (70 percent hadn’t heard of him), was also the best among those not named “Shalala.”
Money wise, he had about $326,000 in the bank at the end of the year, putting him in a virtual tie for third place behind state Rep. David Richardson and former Knight Foundation director and Miami Herald reporter Matt Haggman.
Shalala’s entry may have been the wakeup call, though. Last week she touted more than $1 million raised in just 25 days, likely pushing JJR firmly into the second tier, money wise.
Rodriguez’ exit from the CD 27 race comes a couple days after primary rival Michael Hepburn filed for SD 37 – a move he said had nothing to do with the seat possibly opening up in the 2018 cycle.
Hepburn’s campaign put out a statement Wednesday alluding to Rodriguez’ exit when it was still just a rumor.
“If you see any of my opponents trying to drop out of the race, PLEASE encourage them to stay in,” he said. “They’re doing wonders with splitting up so many votes, it’s not even funny anymore.”
The seven Democrats remaining in the race are former judge Mary Barzee Flores, Haggman, Hepburn, Richardson, Shalala, and Miami Beach Commissioners Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Ken Russell.