Marking an end of an era for Hispanic Republicans, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement to her hometown newspaper, The Miami Herald. She will not be running for re-election in the upcoming 2018 midterms.
During her career in politics, Ros-Lehtinen attained numerous titles. She was the first Cuban American and first Hispanic woman to be elected to Congress in 1989. She will also leave the House of Representatives as its longest serving Republican congresswoman. Before arriving on Capitol Hill, the Cuban-born politician was the first Hispanic woman to be elected to the Florida State House and State Senate. Her legacy was one that began the career for major Republican politicians of today: Jeb Bush ran her 1989 congressional campaign and Marco Rubio had interned for her at one time.
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen will also be leaving behind a strong tradition of moderation within her party. While taking hard stances on some issues, such as relations with Cuba, she bucked the Republican Party numerous times on immigration reform, abortion rights, LGBT rights and healthcare. Ros-Lehtinen is the first member of Congress to have an openly transgender child. She was the first Republican in the House to support gay marriage and she has been one of the most vocal Republican critics of President Trump.
This moderate streak has allowed her to thrive in an increasingly blue district.
Either running unopposed or wining by double digits, Ros-Lehtinen has not had much trouble getting elected. However, Florida’s 27th Congressional District, which she currently represents, is becoming more Democrat-friendly by the year. This trend reached a climax last year when the district voted for Clinton over Trump by almost 20 percentage points – the most Democratic district to be represented by a Republican. Given her legacy, Ros-Lehtinen has been able to succeed amid the change. She won re-election in 2016 by about a 10-point margin.
Now that she is retiring, the district is increasingly likely to fall into Democratic hands. Registered Democrats currently outnumber registered Republicans 37 to 34 percent, and the DNC is already on the offensive. Only a top-tier candidate could woo Republican donors into believing the 2018 race is worth investing in.
The Democrat Ros-Lehtinen beat by 10 points last year, Scott Fuhrman, has already announced he’s running again in 2018. Despite hitting the ground running with name recognition, he may not succeed in a Democratic primary where the district is around 58 percent Hispanic.
Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez has been courted by Democratic operatives in Florida and had announced her candidacy before Ros-Lehtinen declared her retirement. University of Miami academic adviser Michael A. Hepburn is also running as a Democrat.
The candidate Florida Republicans believe could be their best hope is former Miami-Dade school board member Raquel Regalado. A moderate Hispanic in the similar mold of Ros-Lehtinen, Regalado could possibly win with the same coalition of moderate Democrats and Republicans who have kept the current congresswoman into power. While not yet announcing a run, Regalado says she is giving it serious consideration.
To their merit, the Florida GOP does have an impressive list of other names considering a bid in the district. Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, state Sen. Anitere Flores and state Rep. Jeanette Núñez are other names being floated around.
The outcome of this election could have major consequences on control of the House post-2018. House Democrats would need to capture 24 seats to gain control of the legislative body. It would be a steep climb to make, but the special House election in Kansas and the one currently taking place in Georgia could be an indication that Democrats are energized and may make serious gains in the midterms.
Campaign Daily Rating: Lean Democrat