The U.S. House seat in Florida once considered one of the likeliest in the nation to flip from Republican to Democrat this fall now has a strong chance of remaining in GOP hands.
Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a former television reporter and anchor, leads Democrat Donna Shalala by a margin of 51-42 percent, according to a just-completed McLaughlin and Associates poll of likely voters in Florida's 27th District in Miami.
The 27th has been held since 1989 by retiring Republican powerhouse Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Member of Congress of Cuban heritage and the first woman to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
McLaughlin's polling figures are even more stunning when one considers that two years after Hillary Clinton clobbered Donald Trump in the 27th District by a margin of 59-39 percent and the popular Ros-Lehtinen was held to 55 percent of the vote – the open 27th District appeared fertile territory for the Democrats.
The Democrat was seen as a shoe-in even more so because it was Donna Shalala who was set to win the Democratic primary.
Shalala served as Bill Clinton's secretary of health and human services and went on to serve as president of the University of Miami.
In 2015, she became president of the Clinton Global Initiative.
"Shalala has less ties to the district than as a former University of Miami president, and she doesn't speak Spanish," veteran elections analyst Jay O'Callaghan, himself a former assistant to Ros-Lehtinen, told Newsmax. "In a district that is 71 percent Hispanic, Salazar has been delivering the news as a bilingual newscaster for at least two decades."
Shalala, of Lebanese descent, does not speak Spanish.
O'Callaghan also pointed out Salazar "won the Republican primary by a healthy 15 percentage points, while Shalala eked out a win in the Democratic primary by four points."
Mentioned primarily in the proverbial "over the fence gossip" and not by Republicans publicly are two facts that are not helpful to Shalala: At age 77, she would be the second-oldest freshman House Member in U.S. history, and she suffered a stroke in 2015.
"The issue of Maria Salazar being fluent in Spanish and Shalala not speaking the language is going to work to our advantage," National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (Ohio) told us at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast earlier this month.
Since then, a Bendixen poll conducted for Shalala showed the Democrat leading Salazar 55-27 percent among non-Hispanic whites, but Salazar lead among Hispanic voters 55-35 percent.
In terms of issues, Salazar is considered a moderate conservative in the mold of friend Ros-Lehtinen, while Shalala is often characterized as a "Hillary Clinton Democrat." Like Ros-Lehtinen, Salazar is an unabashed pro-lifer, while Shalala is backed by pro-choice groups such as EMILY's List.
No sooner had Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced her plan to retire last year, Democrats were gleefully placing Florida-27 column in their "likely gain" column.
With barely 50 days to go before the voting, the smart bet is on Salazar.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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