María Elvira Salazar, Annette Taddeo battle for South Florida’s most flippable congressional seat
Maria Elvira Salazar Annette Taddeo

Salazar Taddeo
The district has alternated blue and red since longtime Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen retired.

Florida’s 27th Congressional District is home to the costliest and most competitive U.S. House race in South Florida, pitting a Republican with two years of federal lawmaking experience against a Democratic state Senator with five years of legislating under her belt.

U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar, a decorated former TV journalist, is defending against state Sen. Annette Taddeo, a small business owner who made history in 2017 as the first Latina Democrat to win a seat in the chamber.

The two share some commonalities. Both have roots in Latin American countries overrun by Marxist oppressors. Both have long lived in Miami-Dade County. The municipalities of Miami, Coral Gables, Cutler Bay, Key Biscayne, Palmetto Bay, Pinecrest, North Bay Village, South Miami, West Miami and a slew of unincorporated neighborhoods compose CD 27.

Those neighborhoods include Coral Terrace, Fisher Island, Glenvar Heights, Kendall, Olympia Heights, Richmond Heights, Sunset, The Crossings, Three Lakes, Westchester and Westwood Lakes.

The district has alternated blue and red since longtime Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen retired in January 2019.

Analyses of the district’s current composition show it is now safer for Republicans after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration carved the predominantly Democratic city of Miami Beach out. It remains the most closely divided congressional district in South Florida.

It’s also 74% Hispanic, the highest percentage for the voting age population anywhere in the state.

Both candidates performed strongly in the Aug. 23 Primary Election. Salazar took 81% of the vote against a lone opponent, while Taddeo knocked off two adversaries with 68% of ballots cast in her favor.

That’s not where their similarities end. Both have roots in Latin American countries overrun by Marxist oppressors. Salazar was born in Miami to Cuban expatriates who escaped Fidel Castro’s communist regime, while Taddeo fled Colombia as a teenager to escape communist terrorism.

Since their Primary wins, however, each has tried to label the other as a socialist through several misleading campaign ads. Taddeo’s camp took aim at Salazar’s support of abortion restrictions and votes against Joe Biden’s Build Back Better” plan and prescription drug costs as evidence Salazar “talks like a conservative” but “votes like a socialist.”

The GOP, in turn, produced an ad painting Taddeo in a similar light for participating in an April 2018 panel discussion on expanding health care access alongside several other local politicians and groups, including the Miami chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Positions and platforms

Salazar, 61, entered politics in 2018 to succeed Ros-Lehtinen but lost that year to Democrat Donna Shalala, a former cabinet member in President Bill Clinton’s administration, by 6 percentage points.

She won their 2020 rematch by a roughly 3-percentage-point margin to take the seat representing CD 27, which sided with Biden that year over incumbent Donald Trump. As she continued to do this election cycle, Salazar targeted the district’s Spanish-speaking population frequently by radio, labeling her opponent as a socialist and tying her to Democratic socialist U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Fighting “leaders in Congress on the left (who) want to implement socialism in this country” is the top platform issue listed on her website. Others include boosting the economy, job creation, establishing term limits for federally elected officials, improving health care affordability, environmental protection and broadening access to education.

Taddeo, 55, leaned into her personal story this election cycle. As a young girl, she underwent 19 surgeries to correct a cleft lip. At 17, she fled to America — first to Alabama — after the Marxist guerilla group FARC kidnapped her father, a World War II veteran.

For nearly 30 years, she’s run LanguageSpeak, a Miami-based translation services company. Her political career began in 2008, when she unsuccessfully tried to unseat Ros-Lehtinen, a moderate Republican with some liberal leanings.

In the years since, she has sought several elected posts and won some, including her 2012 election as Chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee and her 2017 victory in a Special Election for Senate District 40. The win made her the first Latina Democrat to earn a seat in the chamber.

She also ran as former Gov. Charlie Crist’s running mate during the 2014 gubernatorial race. She ran this year against Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in the Democratic Primary for the Governor until June, when she switched to the CD 27 contest.

Her platform this election prioritizes access to affordable education and health care, protecting women’s reproductive rights, enacting “commonsense” gun reform, supporting measures to improve Florida’s water cleanliness, combating climate change, protecting the environment and strengthening American democracy.

Taddeo’s work in the Senate comports with that platform. She recently passed successful legislation to lower education costs for disabled veteransimprove protections for apartment dwellersboost development of affordable housing and require financial literacy education in high school.

After reports arose of a voter registration scam in which Spanish-speaking Miami residents were tricked into switching their party affiliation from Democratic to Republican, Taddeo led an effort to determine who was responsible.

She later convinced her Republican colleagues in Tallahassee to include language raising financial penalties for organizations whose employees alter voting registration forms without a person’s knowledge in legislation that will go into effect next year.

She similarly pushed to amend Florida’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks to include an exception if a fetal abnormality is detected, sharing her experience of undergoing a life-saving procedure to end an ectopic pregnancy. The amendment failed 23-15.

Taddeo has also been unafraid to criticize her own party at the local and federal levels. In February, she and Republican Miami Sen. Ileana Garcia teamed up to lead the Senate in opposing Biden’s removal of FARC from the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Salazar, too, has broken from party ranks on multiple occasions. In the June aftermath of the elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, she was one of 14 House Republicans — and the only one from Florida — to vote for raising the legal age to buy so-called assault rifle-style firearms from 18 to 21.

The vote cost her with the National Rifle Association, which gave her a “D” rating in September, the lowest ranking the organization gave any member of the GOP.

The following month, she was among six Florida Republican members of Congress to vote for the Respect for Marriage Act to preserve national marriage equality.

She also earned praise for supporting a bipartisan resolution reinstating federal limits on methane emissions from oil and gas producers.

But she hasn’t been as effective a lawmaker. Since taking office in Washington, Salazar has filed 22 pieces of legislation. None has gained traction. She’s also been an active co-sponsor, signing on to 502 bills, of which 11 became law.

Her signature bill is the Dignity Act, a 532-page package that would create a pathway to citizenship for migrants living in the country illegally. The measure would create multiple programs through which undocumented residents can stay and work in the U.S. while paying an annual fee. The money collected would fund retraining programs for U.S. workers and strengthen the southern border.

The bill has yet to gain any traction in the House.

But Salazar’s rhetoric regarding immigrants has been less than dignifying. Just three weeks after DeSantis took credit for flying planes of mostly undocumented Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Massachusetts, Salazar said the migrants “would kiss the floor” in thanks for the opportunity they were being given to live in America.

Taddeo decried the move as a political stunt using asylum seekers as political pawns. Of note, she and 32 of her Senate peers approved the state’s $109.9 billion budget, which included a $12 million set-aside for DeSantis’ migrant-relocation program. However, the authorizing language specified the funds were for moving migrants out of Florida, not between two other states.

Salazar also has perpetuated Trump’s false narrative there was systemic voter fraud in the 2020 election. Speaking on Miami station Radio Mambi on Jan. 11, 2021, she referenced a widely discredited conspiracy theory involving voter discrepancies in Pennsylvania.

Two years after Americans elected Biden as President, there is still no evidence of voter fraud widespread or systemic enough to have swayed the outcome of the election.

Endorsements, fundraising, polling

Salazar raised more than $5 million to defend her seat through a blend of grassroots donations and contributions from corporate and organizational interests. She burned through most of it. As of Nov. 1, thanks to ample spending on advertising, she had $735,000 remaining.

She also benefited from $1.7 million worth of ad buys by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s Congressional Leadership Fund in late September. Taddeo’s campaign manager, Nick Merlino, called the last-minute GOP infusion evidence the contest for CD 27 “is a tossup and Annette can flip the seat.”

Taddeo raised $1.6 million and spent all but $45,000 of it by the beginning of November. Outside PACs provided assists, including actress Eva Longoria’s progressive PAC, Latino Victory Fund, and Drain the DC Swamp, a PAC targeting vulnerable Republicans across the country.

Salazar carries into Election Day endorsements from most of her Republican peers in Congress, as well as nods from DeSantis, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago, West Miami Mayor Eric Díaz-Padrón, former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the South Florida Council of Firefighters and National Association of Police Organizations, among others.

Taddeo, meanwhile, has the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Leader Steny Hoyer, and U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Lois Frankel, Ruben Galego, Eric Swalwell and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Also supporting Taddeo are a passel of current and former elected officials, including Crist, many locally elected officials like Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and national organizations including Planned Parenthood, Communication Workers of America and the Human Rights Campaign.

Her most newsworthy endorsement, however, came from former Florida GOP Chair Al Cárdenas on Oct. 6. He said it was the first time in four decades he was backing a Democrat for Congress.

“She puts her country and her state above herself,” he told attendees of a private fundraiser in a video shared to social media. “And to me, that’s now a precondition for supporting anyone running for office: Is your country more important than your particular career, political career?”

Recent polling suggests Salazar holds a tenuous lead among likely CD 27 voters. An Oct. 9-11 poll by Republican firm Cygnal, commissioned by a super PAC supporting Salazar, and an internal survey for Taddeo’s campaign conducted Oct. 3-5 found the two candidates are statistically tied.

The website FiveThirtyEight offers a less sunny forecast for the challenger. As of Friday, it gave Taddeo a 9% chance of winning based on 40,000 simulations of the election. Early voting in Miami-Dade isn’t helping to brighten matters for her as more Republicans than Democrats have cast ballots ahead of Election Day Tuesday.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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