MIAMI — As races for governor and the U.S. Senate capture national attention in Florida ahead of the midterm elections next week, the closest race in the state may be for a Democratic senator. who is trying to unseat an incumbent Republican House Speaker.
If State Senator Annette Taddeo, a Colombian American, defeats Rep. María Elvira Salazar, who is Cuban-American, it could give Democrats hope of doing well elsewhere on the ballot, especially with the top spots in the election. state that should remain in Republican hands.
The GOP, especially in South Florida, tries to portray Democrats as “socialist” and soft on foreign policy, with Taddeo touting his hardline stance against leftist governments. One of his senders says, “I escaped Marxist terrorists funded by the Cuban regime in Colombia,” referring to his father’s kidnapping and eventual release by left-wing Colombian rebels.
Florida’s 27th congressional district is over 70% Hispanic and has been redesigned to make it safer for Republicans.
Salazar and Taddeo have similar tough foreign stances against the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. During his first term in Congress, Salazar made social media videos denouncing these governments and criticizing some of President Joe Biden’s policies in the region. Taddeo, according to a spokesperson, believes that the current foreign policy towards Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua cannot change until there are democratic transitions in these countries.
Taddeo criticized the Biden administration for removing the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a former Marxist rebel group, from the list of foreign terrorist organizations after historic peace negotiations.
A former Colombian president takes center stage
With large numbers of Colombians in the district overwhelmingly opposing leftist politicians, the country’s centre-right former president has become a focal point for the Taddeo and Salazar campaigns. There are approximately 275,000 eligible Colombian voters in Florida, and a significant number live in the district. While Colombians lean towards the Republican, some find it appealing to vote for someone from their country of origin, regardless of party. Taddeo, who was born in Colombia, says she would be the first Jewish Latina in Congress.
Both candidates left many perplexed recently when they tweeted that former Colombian President Iván Duque apparently supports them both.
But there is a history of conservative Colombian politicians supporting Republican candidates in the United States, which Democrats have strongly criticized.
The first tweet came from Taddeo with a video of Duque speaking at an event this summer. Taddeo quoted part of what he said, “I’m always so proud of how Colombian Americans have done so much in American politics and I know we’re coming to Capitol Hill very soon.”
She added below. “On November 8, I will be the first Colombian elected to Congress.”
Then Salazar tweeted a photo of her and Duque shaking hands and wrote in Spanish: “Thank you president @IvanDuque for your support!”
Taddeo again tweeted a different video of Duque speaking at another event saying, “We’re really looking forward to seeing more Colombian Americans entering Capitol Hill very soon.”
The tweets raised eyebrows after a backlash from Democrats in 2020 when two conservative Colombian senators, from Duque’s party, made social media videos endorsing then-President Donald Trump. Juan David Vélez, a former Colombian congressman who until recently represented Colombians living abroad and who is a US citizen, backed Salazar in 2020 while in office and now backs her as well.
Right-wing former President Alvaro Uribe also endorsed Trump and Salazar in 2020.
Colombia’s current president, Gustavo Petro, a former leftist guerrilla, also grew heated when, as a senator in 2020, he said in an interview that if he could he would vote for Joe Biden. That prompted Biden’s current senior director for the Western Hemisphere on the National Security Council to respond in a Tweeter in Spanish to mind his own business, “because nobody here cares about your opinion.”
U.S. Representatives Gregory Meeks, DN.Y., and Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona, who is Colombian, criticized the endorsements, saying Colombian politicians should not take sides in U.S. elections.
In an interview with NBC News, Taddeo said that after an ad put out by a conservative group called her “Petrista” – a follower of Petro – she contacted her “friend” Duque and had a conversation about what was happening.
“The reason I called him was because I wanted to post a video I had of his last visit as president to Miami when I was already in the running,” Taddeo said, adding that there were two events where he spoke about her.
Taddeo said she asked Duque for permission to use the video and didn’t ask for his approval because it would be “inappropriate”.
She said Duque replied, “Of course, Anette, I meant what I said. I think it would be great to have a Colombian American in Congress and feel free to post it.
Salazar’s office did not respond to an interview request.
For three decades, the district was held by a Republican and the first Latina elected to Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Democrat Donna Shalala won in 2018 and two years later moved back to Republicans when Salazar, a former journalist, won.
Republicans made big gains in Florida in 2020 and their momentum continued. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis could become the first Republican governor in 20 years to win Miami-Dade County, which lies partly in the 27th District.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report categorizes the district as “lean Republican.”
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