Donna Shalala looks for second straight win in CD 27 rematch with Maria Elvira Salazar

Donna Shalala_Maria Elvira Salazar
Shalala defeated Salazar for the open seat by 6 points in 2018.

Florida voters may feel a bit of déjà vu in Florida’s 27th Congressional District, as Maria Elvira Salazar and Donna Shalala will match up for the second straight cycle this November.

Shalala won the seat in 2018 by 6 percentage points. While Salazar has done well in the money game this cycle, she still trails Shalala in cash on hand and faces several other hurdles to emerge as the victor this time around.

Before Shalala’s 2018 victory, Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen held the CD 27 seat. Ros-Lehtinen had represented parts of South Florida for three decades. That long hold could give Republicans hope they can regain the seat in 2020.

There were signs, however, that Ros-Lehtinen was relying on incumbency to keep her hold on the district. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won the district in 2016 by nearly 20 points. Ros-Lehtinen was also a moderate voice in the Republican Party, primarily on social issues.

With the seat open in 2018, Republicans did come within 6 percentage points of retaining the seat. Salazar lost the contest, however, despite internal polling from her campaign showing the Republican with a 9-point lead just weeks before the election.

Shalala now comes armed with an incumbency advantage. Democrats are also hoping 2020 mirrors the “blue wave” seen in 2018, which swept Shalala and many other Democrats into the U.S. House.

Salazar was born in Miami after her parents fled the Fidel Castro regime in Cuba. She spent decades as a broadcaster on Spanish-language TV before seeking the CD 27 seat last cycle.

Salazar earned the backing of national Republican groups in 2018, and is doing so again this cycle. Salazar has also topped Shalala in multiple fundraising periods this year.

Those occasional wins have not allowed Salazar to catch up to the incumbent’s cash-on-hand lead, however. As of July 29, Shalala had more than $1.84 million still on hand. Salazar was sitting on nearly $1.23 million.

That’s plenty of money to play with for the challenger but it represents another hurdle to clear if she wants to flip the 2018 results in her favor. Salazar also still has a few months to make up that gap. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, have also contributed to Salazar. That could be a sign the billionaire couple could give even more attention to the race via PAC spending.

Adelson is a prominent GOP donor, both in Florida and nationwide. He serves as the Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO, among his many business operations in Nevada.

Plenty of outside money did flood into the race in 2018. GOP groups hit Shalala over her time as president of the University of Miami and later as head of the Clinton Foundation.

In 2018, Salazar attempted to position herself as a moderate on the environment. She backed a carbon tax proposal put forward by then-Rep. Carlos Curbelo, though Republicans largely dismissed the plan. It’s unclear whether she’ll try a similar tack this time around.

Democrats do have just a 4.8 percentage point gap in voter registration over Republicans, leading them 36.2%-31.4% in the district. The remainder of voters are registered with other parties or as non-party affiliated.

That 4.8-point lead is higher than it was in Nov. 2018, however, when Democrats led by fewer than 4 points.

Analysts say Salazar’s chances of taking the seat are lower than they were in 2018. The Cook Political Report had the contest either “leaning Democratic” or a “toss up” during the 2018 cycle. Now, the outlet rates the seat as “likely Democratic.”

Frank Polo Sr. has also qualified for the contest as a write-in candidate, though is not expected to mount a significant challenge for the seat.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected]


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