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In a year certain to be dominated by Democrats, the party's Florida vice chairman is in trouble. Luis Garcia is battling influential county lobbyist Jorge Luis Lopez to represent Key Biscayne, South Beach, downtown Miami, and Little Havana.
Garcia is a 62-year-old retired firefighter who, as a state legislator, succeeded in obtaining compensation for Alan Crotzer, a man who spent 24 years in prison for two rapes he didn't commit. Garcia also sponsored a measure that prohibits suspending or deferring prison sentences of criminals convicted of attempted murder on a law enforcement officer, state attorney, or judge.
Lopez, who served as chief of staff to former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, touts his 20 years in and around government. He has also served on nonprofit boards including the United Way, Camillus House, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. "You want someone who understands the system," Lopez says.
The 47-year-old Republican has reason to feel good. His party has donated more than $56,000 to his $300,000 campaign war chest, while Garcia has raised less than $150,000. What's more, a Democrat hasn't won re-election in the district since 1990. And though Democrats hold the advantage over Republicans in number of registered voters, it's only by 1,000 people.
The GOP has been gunning for Garcia for more than a year. "They looked long and hard for an opponent," he gripes. "Jorge is like the seventh person they asked to run against me."
Responds Lopez: "The party did not seek me out. I decided to run because Garcia has done a terrible job representing the district."