Miami Democrats Warn 2020 Candidates Not to Alienate South Florida Voters With Far-Left Policies

Donna Shalala / Getty Images
June 24, 2019

Democratic leaders in Miami are providing some advice for 2020 presidential candidates, warning them not to alienate South Floridians by promoting policies that expand the size of government.

Multiple Democratic members of Congress spoke with the Miami Herald about what issues they are hearing about from constituents, saying the national issues are at odds with some of the issues local Democratic lawmakers and voters want to hear about. Rep. Donna Shalala (D., Fla.), who was able to win a five-way Democratic primary in 2018, said she hasn't noticed a liberal shift among voters in her district and that they seem more concerned about the cost of health care, protecting the environment, and infrastructure.

"I want them to talk about issues that affect people on a day-to-day basis," Shalala said of the 2020 field. "I want them to talk about what a Democratic leader can do. That is, what’s the difference between Democrats and Republicans."

"I have not been for Medicare for all and I think all the candidates have had trouble defending their position. I’m pretty pragmatic. There are 29 million people that don’t have health insurance. We need to get them covered," Shalala continued. "In Florida in particular, the place where they are going to be, the state has not extended Medicaid, which means there are working-class people that do not have access to healthcare. That’s important to the people of Miami."

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (Fla.), who also flipped a Republican-held seat in 2018, said she believes issues like Medicare for all will cause some South Florida voters not to vote for the Democratic candidate.

"I do think that a lot of the Democratic candidates don’t understand the makeup of South Florida," Mucarsel-Powell said. "Most people here come from a different country. There’s not this party loyalty they may find in other areas."

She went on to talk about the importance of Democrats focusing on climate change.

"If we’re having the primary debate in South Florida, they better mention the effects of climate change," Mucarsel-Powell said. "For me, it’s one of the most precious issues that I don’t feel we’re doing enough on."

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.), who has been in office for over a decade and defeated a progressive candidate that was backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) in the 2018 Democratic primary, said the 2020 Democrats cannot alienate some of the key Florida constituencies like Jewish voters if they want to pick up the Democratic vote. Wasserman Schultz referred to the close losses by Hillary Clinton, Andrew Gillum, and former Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) in the 2016 and 2018 elections.

"Any smart campaign and candidate committed to winning the state of Florida, which is absolutely essential to winning the presidency, needs to take a look at the last two elections," Wasserman Schultz said. "A serious campaign for the presidency in Florida will micro-target and hyper-focus on the vast, diverse ethnic issues that are important to our base communities."

The former Democratic National Committee chairwoman said Democratic talking points should include a pro-Israel message and discuss Venezuela, according to the Miami Herald.

Both Democrats and Republicans from Miami-Dade supported Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in 2017.

But five of the seven U.S. senators running for president voted against a measure sponsored by Rubio in February that allows state and local governments to refrain from doing business with companies that support boycotting, sanctioning and divesting from Israel. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, neither of whom are in the top tier of candidates, supported it.

And some of the Democratic candidates, notably Sanders, have refused to call Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro a dictator or declare Juan Guaidó as the nation’s legitimate leader, which Wasserman Schultz says is a political mistake.

"On the debate stage next week it’ll be absolutely essential, particularly because of how narrowly our state is won and lost, for our candidates to talk about the importance of how we can transition Venezuela to a democracy," Wasserman Schultz said.