First-time candidate Adam Benna faces an uphill battle in his attempt to unseat incumbent Republican Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera.
The 34-year-old Democratic lawyer and former political staffer heads to Election Day at a marked funding disadvantage. He also received significantly less help from his party, lacks the two years of lawmaking Busatta Cabrera has to lean on and, consequently, is the lesser known of the two.
The two lifelong Floridians are competing for the seat representing House District 114, which covers a largely coastal area in Miami-Dade County that includes parts of Coral Gables, South Miami, Cutler Bay and West Miami.
Cape Coral-born Busatta Cabrera, 32, is a development director for ADE Miami, a nonprofit that works with adults with disabilities. She took her first swing at elected office in 2020 and succeeded, winning by nearly 9 percentage points and flipping the HD 114 seat red for the first time in six years.
She entered politics as a Chief of Staff to former Republican state Rep. Anitere Flores. She now serves as Vice Chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.
Her husband is lobbyist Kevin Marino Cabrera, who is competing in a runoff for the District 6 seat on the Miami-Dade County Commission. She appeared beside him in a 30-second video ad touting his ties to Donald Trump while decrying “do-nothing” politicians representing voters in the area.
Benna, 34, moved to South Florida in 2012 — four years after his entry to politics as an intern on Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. He’s also worked in the Mayor’s Office of his hometown of Daytona Beach, on the re-election campaigns of Obama and former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and as an Assistant State Attorney under Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
He launched his campaign in January, saying he wanted to provide leadership focused on local issues like property insurance rates, utility bills, affordable housing and septic-to-sewer conversions.
Busatta Cabrera and others in the Legislature “are way off base,” he argued, “fighting ridiculous culture wars that won’t improve the lives of people who live here in Miami-Dade.”
On the issues
Benna’s campaign platform is ambitious. In addition to lowering costs for residents, he wants to protect consumers from fraud, assist small businesses hurt by the pandemic, increase teacher pay, reform and expand education, invest in sustainable infrastructure, implement “green” standards in development, protect natural resources, accelerate transitions to renewable energy, protect women’s reproductive rights and codify anti-discrimination laws.
Busatta Cabrera’s platform includes many of the same priorities. She also wants to boost teacher pay, freeze taxes and business fees, combat inflation, promote restoration projects that improve local ecological values and aesthetics, and prohibit “oversized developments” that change the character of neighborhoods.
Since taking office, Busatta Cabrera has been a deft lawmaker. She successfully sponsored legislation increasing legal protections for firefighters, requiring high school students to take financial literacy and management classes and updating the state foster care system to prioritize finding minors permanent homes.
She saw through a measure formalizing a Statewide Office of Resiliency one year after backing a bill that created the Resilient Florida Grant Program to fund projects that inform a Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan.
In the most recent budget, Busatta Cabrera brought back millions to her district for septic-to-sewer conversion and water-management projects in Coral Gables and West Miami, a study of regional flood control conditions and electric vehicle-charging and solar-power components at a Coral Gables mobility hub, among other earmarks.
She also joined her fellow GOP lawmakers in voting for Florida’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks with no exception for rape or incest and the so-called “Stop WOKE Act,” which bars classroom and workplace lessons that tell students and employees are inherently racist, sexist or oppressed because of their race, color, sex or national origin.
And while she was among just a few Republican members of the House to vote in February against the Parental Rights in Education law restricting classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual preference, she later joined 70 GOP Representatives in voting to dissolve Disney’s special Reedy Creek district after company executives spoke out against the measure.
Political and pocketbook support
This election cycle, Busatta Cabrera raised more than $772,000, a large portion of it from political organizations and corporations representing industries including real estate, pharmaceuticals, health care, sugar and energy.
She had just under half that remaining — $389,000 — in her campaign account and political committee, People Above Politics, by late October.
That’s more than twice what Benna raised between his campaign account and political committee, Sunshine Priorities, and more than 10 times what he had left roughly a week from Election Day.
Benna’s fundraising overwhelmingly came through grassroots donations. Most personal checks were for three-figure sums or less.
Busatta Cabrera also enjoyed far more help from her political party. She received more than $128,000 worth of in-kind aid, almost all of it from the Republican Party of Florida for staff, polling and research costs. That doesn’t count monetary donations the party also gave.
She has been endorsed by the South Florida Police Benevolent Association, International Association of Firefighters, AFSCME Florida, United Faculty of Miami Dade College, Associated Builders and Contractors, Metro-Dade Firefighters, Fraternal Order of Police, Dade County Medical Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which named her its “2022 Legislative Champion.”
She also received indirect endorsements, by way of campaign contributions, from Jacksonville Rep. Lake Ray, Walton Beach Rep. Patt Maney, Miami Rep. Vance Aloupis, Fleming Island Rep. Sam Garrison and Putnam County Rep. Bobby Payne, among others.
Benna, conversely, received about $35,000 worth of in-kind assistance, mostly from the Democratic Party, for staffing, taxes, research and insurance expenditures.
He carries endorsements from the South Florida AFL-CIO and indirect endorsements from Miami Sen. Jason Pizzo, Pinecrest Councilwoman Anna Hochkammer, former U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, former Pinecrest Mayor and state Rep. Cindy Lerner, former Miami-Dade Commissioner Kathryn Sorenseon, former South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, state Senate candidate Raquel Pacheco, state House candidate Adam Gentle and former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence, the founder and Chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida.
Election Day is Nov. 8. Early voting runs through Nov. 6.