There's a wide field of Republicans hoping to unseat U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who also serves as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, but so far, the candidates have spent more time bashing each other than the incumbent.
“We've clearly got a spirited primary on our hands here,” Richard DeNapoli, chairman of the Republican Party of Broward County, told a crowd earlier this summer when four of the candidates appeared in a debate.
The melee among the candidates was so eye-opening that veteran political reporter Michael Putney, who moderated one of the debates, wrote that sometimes their statements “bordered on the ludicrous, boorish and unhinged.”
The prize for taking off the gloves may go to Karen Harrington and Ozzie deFaria, the two frontrunners. Harrington, who lost to Wasserman Schultz by 22 points two years ago, sent voters a mailer calling opponent deFaria a “Democrat Dream Candidate,” and referenced 2005 and 2006 arrests over scuffles with his estranged wife's boyfriend. “Anger issues?” the flier reads. “Suited for Congress? Does he represent your values?”
deFaria countered with his own mailer to voters, featuring his ex-wife, Elaine Seibold: “While it was a mistake, it was completely understandable at the time. And they've both moved on and are now friends,” she said. Adds the mailer: “If Ozzie deFaria is willing to tell you about his imperfections, you know he'll be honest with you about fixing America's problems.”
For the five Republicans and one Independent who hope to unseat one of the country's highest profile Democrats in the nation, taking on Wasserman Schultz is akin to taking on President Obama. She's Obama’s hand-picked head of the DNC, and as such, represents a plum target.
All five Republican candidates have traded on Wasserman Schultz’s national standing to seek attention and raise money. That, along with the success two years ago of insurgent Tea Party-backed candidates, has raised their hopes that one of them will send both Wasserman Schultz and Obama home from Washington.
“We cannot afford to have Barack Obama in another term as our president, and we certainly cannot afford to have Debbie Wasserman Schultz represent this district any longer,” said Gineen Bresso, 39, a former commissioner at the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Those running also include:
deFaria, 48, a businessman who is best known for depicting Wasserman Schultz in a spiked collar on his website, and calling her “Obama's attack dog.” He has earned an endorsement from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Juan Eliel Garcia, 37, a radio host on La Nueva 88.3 FM.
Harrington, 48, who snagged the endorsement of Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., as well as a nod from the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List. Harrington has called on Wasserman Schultz to release her tax returns — although said she won't release her own until Wasserman Schultz agrees to do so as well.
Joe Kaufman, 42, who formerly worked as a producer for Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy's radio program. Kaufman drew the satirical interest Comedy Central's “The Daily Show” when he tried to explain a group he heads called “Americans Against Hate.” Kaufman said he did the interview to try to bring attention to what he describes as the “infiltration of Islamist groups” in American political life.
Wasserman Schultz hasn't faced serious opposition since she was first elected to the seat in 2004.
The 23rd Congressional Distinct is one of the most Democratic in the country. 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.
It includes most of Broward County south of Interstate 595, and dips into coastal Miami-Dade County to Miami Beach.
And Wasserman Schultz has outraised all of them, with $1.4 million to run her general election campaign.
Bresso had just $4,741 remaining in her campaign account for the campaign account for the final stretch, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
deFaria has raised $348,456, including a $150,000 loan to himself.
Garcia had just $352 in his campaign account as of July 25.
Harrington has raised $581,544, including a $190,000 personal loan to her campaign.
Kaufman has raised $365,553 and had $73,746 to spend as of the end of July.