WASHINGTON — Democratic challengers in three critical House races to unseat South Florida Republicans raised more money than the incumbents during the first three months of the year, campaign finance reports show.
The races to defeat Miami's longtime Republican representatives, brothers Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, became the focus of anger among Democratic party activists last month after two key Florida Democrats refused to help the challengers because of their relationships with the incumbents.
Previously, the three incumbents have faced only token opposition to their re-elections. But Democrats said the fundraising numbers show that all three could be beaten by their current challengers.
"If anyone was still wondering, it's `Game on,' '' said Jeff Garcia, who helped recruit Democratic candidates and works as a media consultant for two of the challengers, Annette Taddeo, who is trying to unseat Ros-Lehtinen, and former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, who is challenging Lincoln Diaz-Balart. "They have all crossed a very important credibility and viability threshold." Taddeo, the last candidate to get in the race, reported raising more than $321,511 in just over a month, including a $180,000 loan she made to herself.
Ros-Lehtinen raised $115,102 in the quarter, but has $1.7 million on hand for the campaign.
The reports, which were due at midnight Tuesday to the Federal Election Commission, showed similar circumstances for all three challengers — they outraised the incumbents, but trail in cash on hand.
Martinez outraised Lincoln Diaz-Balart, pulling in $616,666 to Diaz-Balart's $613,757; Martinez put $3,512 into his campaign. Diaz-Balart has more than $1.45 million in cash.
Former Miami-Dade County Democratic party chair Joe Garcia raised $331,385 compared to incumbent Mario Diaz-Balart's $330,564. Mario Diaz-Balart has $747,694 on hand.
Two key South Florida Democrats have declined to participate in the campaigns to unseat the Republicans. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is a co-chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Red to Blue program, and Rep. Kendrick Meek said they couldn't openly back the three challengers because of their personal and professional relationships with the incumbents.
In an effort to defuse the controversy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and four other top House Democrats later sent each of the Miami challengers a letter endorsing their candidacy.