Best Political Miscalculation (2009)

Raul Martinez versus Lincoln Diaz-Balart

For the first time in decades, since before John F. Kennedy allegedly betrayed them, Cuban-Americans in Miami were supposedly ready to accept the Democratic Party into their lives again. Focus groups and studies indicated that Cuban-Americans in Miami wanted the freedom to travel to Cuba and visit relatives, not to mention send them money. Polls showed that, like the rest of America, Cuban-Americans wanted leaders who would focus on fixing the local economy instead of being fixated on toppling Fidel Castro. These were the signs that propelled the Democratic Party to recruit Hialeah's Mayor-for-Life Raul Martinez out of retirement and go after Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart's seat. From the get-go, the campaign was billed as the clash of the titans. It was the type of political race made for national television. On one side was Diaz-Balart, a former state prosecutor whose congressional career has been defined by a singular subject — the Cuban embargo. On the other side was Martinez, the charismatic Cuban Democrat who built his legacy running Miami-Dade's second-largest city. The plan seemed perfect. Martinez would siphon votes away from Diaz-Balart's base in Hialeah while clobbering the U.S. representative in Democrat-loving Broward County. Pundits figured Diaz-Balart was in the fight of his political life. They claimed he was in a dead heat with Martinez and the race was too close to call. But everyone underestimated Diaz-Balart, who proved he can still get nasty and dirty to get a victory. Throughout the campaign, Diaz-Balart hammered home Martinez's troubled past, including his indictment on public corruption charges and video footage of the burly Martinez pummeling a smaller man during a street protest. Martinez was unable to thwart the barrage against his character and ended up losing to Diaz-Balart by double digits. So much for those focus groups.


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >