Politics & Government

Pelosi backs 3 in S. Florida races after local Dems won't

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has endorsed three Miami congressional candidates after two House Democrats from South Florida refused to because of their friendships with the Republican incumbents.

In letters, Pelosi and four other top House Democrats congratulate each of the challengers for a "strong start'' and say they look forward to helping each "become our newest Democratic partner for change in Washington.''

The letters came after Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Kendrick Meek said they wouldn't actively campaign for their fellow Democrats because of they didn't want to risk their personal and professional ties to Republican Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Democrats have their best shot in years of unseating at least one of the three Republicans by fielding three strong candidates to face them _ former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, former Miami-Dade Democratic party chair Joe Garcia and businesswoman Annette Taddeo.

Word that Meek and Wasserman Shultz wouldn't help infuriated party activists. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's official blog earlier this week referred to three incumbents as "some of President Bush's most reliable rubbberstamps.''

Wasserman Schultz is a co-chair of the party's Red to Blue program which raises money and mentors top candidates, and the letter was intended to tamp down any suggestion that the national party won't be strongly backing the three challengers.

"We are proud of what you have achieved in this early stage and look forward to working with you to meet the critical changes ahead,'' said the letter, which is Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee stationary. In addition to Pelosi, signers included Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn, Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel, and DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen.

Meek said neither he nor Wasserman Schultz have sought to dissuade the three candidates from running and he called them "excellent candidates that have a good chance at winning.'' He said both he and Wasserman Schultz still will raise money for Democratic candidates nationwide.

Wasserman Schultz, who has told the party that another member of Congress should coordinate the local races, said Friday she encouraged the Democratic leadership team to send out the letter.

"As a chair of the DCCC Red to Blue program, I have made clear to our Democratic leadership throughout this election season that the DCCC should be involved in these races,'' she said.

The prospect of a Democrat sitting out a race had created a firestorm on left-leaning blogs, which didn't go unnoticed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

It noted "frustration" with Wasserman Schultz, but said, "while some of our members may not always be able to actively campaign with every candidate, you can be assured that the DCCC will be there.''

"Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz works tirelessly to help elect more Democrats to Congress,'' the blog entry says. "She has made clear that she supports the DCCC involvement in these South Florida races and has made sure that a member who could completely throw themselves into those races would be assigned to them.''

The candidates welcomed the letter.

"îI'm very comfortable with the strong support we are receiving from the national party,'' Garcia said.

"You can't get any higher than this,'' Martinez said. "This is the leadership I'll be counting on for guidance and support when I get to Washington.''