Put away the popcorn, break out the bourbon: The race between Democratic state Sen. Annette Taddeo and incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar for Florida’s 27th Congressional District is one of the tightest in the state. And the bourbon’s for nerve-calming on both sides of this tight Miami match-up.
This race quickly ballooned into the most expensive South Florida contest for a congressional seat, with the campaigns and a host of political committees spending nearly $3 million in support of either candidate. The most recent public poll has the race projected within the margin of error, though earlier polls released this spring and summer showed Salazar with a small but consistent lead.
Salazar, 60, is a long-time television journalist who first won the seat in 2020 on her second attempt. She has received significant financial support from House Republicans, including a $1.7 million ad buy from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a PAC run by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. She has also netted endorsements from key Republican figures, like Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Taddeo, 55, is a businesswoman and politician who first ran for Congress over a decade ago and joined Charlie Crist as his lieutenant governor pick in his unsuccessful 2014 bid for governor. She ran for governor herself earlier this year against Crist and state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, but after stalling in fundraising and the polls withdrew to challenge Salazar. After jumping in, she received financial and public support from pivotal Democratic Party figures, and recently notched an endorsement from Al Cárdenas, a former chair of the Republican Party of Florida. Neither candidate responded to requests for an interview.
The 27th District has swung back and forth over the past few election cycles. Salazar beat incumbent Democrat Donna Shalala by about three points in 2020, after Shalala bested Salazar by six points in 2018. Most election projection sources, like the Cook Political Report and FiveThirtyEight, have pegged the race as leaning in Salazar’s favor this time around. And Republicans may have gotten a boost in the district thanks to this year’s redistricting.
Matthew Isbell, a Democratic data consultant, said redistricting shifted the seat from having a slight lean to Democrats into more of a straight toss-up. The new maps cut out Miami Beach, a more Democratic area that has been a part of the district for decades, and added more of the further inland areas that are home to Republican-leaning Hispanic voters. Constituents under the previous boundary went for Joe Biden by a few points in 2020, but the new district would have gone to Trump by less than 1%. “If Taddeo were to come up, say, a percent or two short in the race against Salazar, then you could really point to redistricting being the critical factor there,” Isbell told City & State.
Sean Foreman, a Barry University political science professor who lives in the district, wrote a book that included a case study about Salazar’s 2020 victory, agrees that redistricting has cemented the seat as a toss-up, but says several factors have given Salazar a leg up in 2022. Historically, the party of the sitting president loses control of one or both chambers in Congress in the midterm election, and prognosticators say Democrats are likely to lose their majority in the House this year.
Also, Taddeo’s late entrance into the race suggests Florida Democrats were not actively recruiting candidates to challenge Salazar, making them start on the back foot. “There might be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy for Democrats,” Foreman said. “They didn't put the attention into this race initially and now it's too late to salvage it.” One tactic Taddeo is using is leaning on the abortion issue, as are many Democrats this cycle follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. She’s also taking a page out of the Republican playbook: painting her opponent as a socialist.
Taddeo’s camp has released an ad comparing Salazar’s anti-abortion stance to socialist governments limiting their citizen’s freedom. Salazar levied accusations of socialism of her own against Shalala in 2020. “This election will determine if we remain a beacon of freedom or we become a socialist dictatorship,” Taddeo says in the 30-second ad. “MAGA Republican Maria Salazar supports government control over women’s health care decisions, even in cases of rape or incest.”
Republicans are firing back with socialist accusations against Taddeo. Evan Power, who leads county parties as the Republican Party of Florida's “chair of chairs,” said Taddeo aligns with “The Squad,” a group of the Democratic Party’s younger, most outspoken progressives in Congress. “We've seen that the kind of pro-socialism, government control agenda that the Democrats have pushed out is not popular in South Florida, especially with Hispanics who fled from these kinds of problems,” Power said. “Annette Taddeo is in league with The Squad on her socialist views and the way she would seek to govern.”
Salazar hasn’t released any ads accusing Taddeo of being a socialist, but did make one likening rising inflation rates and gas prices under the Biden administration to the socialism her parents fled from in Cuba. “I approve this message because my parents lost their country to socialism,” Salazar says. “Over my dead body will we lose ours.”
Barney Bishop, a Democrat-turned-Republican lobbyist and political consultant and a former president of Associated Industries of Florida, believes Taddeo and all top-ticket Democrats in Florida’s election will be tied to the policies of the Biden administration, which has low approval levels in several policy areas largely important with Hispanic voters. “She's got to carry the brunt of what the Democrats have done to the country, to the economy, to lack of doing anything about crime, to the other issues that are concerning Americans. That's going to overplay in this race,” Bishop said.
On the other hand, Democratic National Committee member Thomas Kennedy said what should matter most about Salazar is that she is a “Trump acolyte” and didn’t support legislation during her time in Congress that would be good for her district’s residents. He pointed to her vote against the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. “As somebody that represents one of the most flood-prone districts in one of the most flood-prone states in the country, it's outrageous that she wouldn't vote for (the infrastructure bill),” Kennedy said. “It has a bunch of money that (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and other agencies recognized was critical to build resilient infrastructure to mitigate the effects of flooding.”
Isbell says he doesn’t think any of the candidates' policy positions or discussions about them will matter in the race – just party politics. “They'll talk about issues, but I just think that voters are more and more just throwing those to the side,” Isbell said. “I don't think issues and policy points really matter. I think it's all about the partisan lean and the general trend line.”
Now it remains to be seen which of this race’s partisans – Salazar or Taddeo – benefits from the lean by winning in November.