Democratic leader Debbie Wasserman Schultz targeted by Republican hopefuls

McClatchy NewspapersMay 18, 2012 

— One of her potential Republican rivals recently depicted Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a spiked collar, calling her "Obama’s attack dog." Another lost to the Democratic congresswoman from Florida by more than 22 points just two years ago. Another was the butt of a joke on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” when he tried to explain a group he heads called “Americans Against Hate.”

Yet all three see Wasserman Schultz, also the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, as the polarizing Florida stand-in for President Barack Obama. That, along with the 2010 success of insurgent tea party-supported candidates, fuels their hopes that they’ll send both Wasserman Schultz and Obama packing.

"Absolutely, I’m tying Debbie Wasserman Schultz and President Obama 100 percent together," said Ozzie deFaria, who of the potential six Republicans in the race has raised the most money. And who also put Wasserman Schultz in a dog collar on his campaign Website.

Like deFaria, many of her opponents have traded on Wasserman Schultz’s national standing to garner attention and raise money. DeFaria, for example, earned an endorsement from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Karen Harrington, who lost to Wasserman Schultz two years ago, said she’s "making it a national campaign." Harrington snagged the endorsement of Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., as well as a nod from the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List.

"We believe it’s going to be a big race," Harrington said. "As DNC chair, she’s been very outspoken against the Republicans. She speaks on behalf of the president and the liberal base of the party, and I think she has a message that’s opposite of the conservative message."

Even so, Harrington and the others haven’t demonstrated they’ve made any inroads when it comes to being elected out of one of country’s most Democratic districts.

The district includes most of Broward County south of Interstate 595 and dips into coastal Miami-Dade County to Miami Beach. Its boundaries were tweaked this year to make it slightly friendlier to Republicans, but even so, 61 percent of its voters went for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink in 2010. Just 38 percent of the district went for McCain in 2008.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which is charged with electing as many Republicans as possible to the House of Representatives, also isn’t hopeful about the 23rd Congressional District. It’s acknowledge there’s little it can do but be a nuisance to Wasserman Schultz, whose duties as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee will peak at the political convention in Charlotte, N.C., late this summer.

"If there’s the opportunity to get Debbie Wasserman Schultz to campaign at home in the fall, rather than raising money for other candidates, we certainly will," said Nathaniel Sillin, a spokesman for the NRCC.

Merely irritating the DNC chair in her hometown when she has national duties is a win, though, Republicans say, especially in a part of Florida that’s also a source of considerable fundraising for the president.

Of the six Republicans who’ve indicated to the Federal Election Commission they want to do battle in the Aug. 14 primary to face Wasserman Schultz, just three have raised more than $100,000. They are Harrington, deFaria and Joe Kaufman, who drew the satirical interest of “The Daily Show.”

Of those, only deFaria and Harrington have done the kind of organizational and fundraising work to merit consideration in the so-called “Young Guns” program, the NRCC’s program to boost promising Republican congressional candidates.

None of the Republican candidates, however, have come close to matching Wasserman Schultz’s $2.3 million in contributions. All have contributed their own money to their races. Wasserman Schultz has $1.7 million in cash on hand, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Wasserman Schultz, who was unavailable for an interview, hasn’t faced serious opposition since she was first elected to the seat in 2004. So why are so many Republicans out to get her this year?

"She represents all of the liberal orthodoxy that you can think of on the left," said Richard DeNapoli, chairman of the Republican Party of Broward County. "She’s symbolic. She is the Democratic Party, Obama’s hand-picked leader of the DNC. To take her out is almost on par with defeating Obama himself."

Email: ebolstad@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @erikabolstad

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