Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Big Trouble in Little Havana?

A poll taken in June shows that the Congressional brother act, Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, are both locked in real races in Miami.

The poll, by Bendixen & Associates, shows Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, Cuban-American brothers with a long Miami political pedigree, are leading their Democratic challengers by only single digits with four months to go to the election. Potentially more troubling for the GOP incumbents, the poll shows neither cracked 50 percent of the vote. That’s a far cry from their dominance in previous campaigns.

“This election shows signs of being something of a reckoning for the Diaz-Balart brothers,” said pollster Fernand Amandi, executive vice president at the polling company. The Coral Gables-based firm, which specializes in Hispanic polling, worked for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, but has not worked with any of the congressional candidates.

Spokesmen for the Diaz-Balarts’ campaigns noted Bendixen’s ties to Democrats, with spokesman Carlos Curbelo calling it “great news” for Lincoln Diaz-Balart when a “known Democrat pollster confirms from the onset” that the incumbent is ahead. Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s pollster said the candidate’s own internal polls show him running 12 points ahead of rival Raul Martinez, the former mayor of Hialeah, a Miami suburb.


The poll, of 350 respondents in each congressional district with a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points, showed Lincoln Diaz-Balart statistically tied with Martinez, 41 to 37 percent, with 22 percent undecided.

Mario Diaz-Balart was ahead of challenger Joe Garcia, the former chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic party, 44 percent to 39 percent, with 17 percent undecided.

The job of the campaign spokesman is, of course, to find a pony at the bottom of a pile of manure, but calling the poll results “great news” is a little like saying the Titanic only “brushed” the iceberg.

I know a few Republicans who would privately rejoice to see the Diaz-Balarts get their walking papers, including one who has had to work with them in Washington and refers to them as “those crazies.” The poll indicates that the challengers in both races stand to gain ground with non-Hispanic and non-Cuban Hispanic voters. In other words, the one-note serenade of Castro and Cuba todo al dia is losing its appeal. Most likely this is coming from younger voters to whom Cuba is the stuff of their parents’ and grandparents’ lives and has little to do with the things that matter to them like education, health care, and the economy.

Other poll results show that incumbent Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican of Coral Gables, is ahead of her challenger, Annette Taddeo, by 27 points.

A lot of things can change between now and November for both the Diaz-Balarts and Ros-Lehtinen. Stay tuned.