Five Lingering Issues in the Latest Tim Canova vs. Debbie Wasserman Schultz Race
Tim Canova stands in front of an American flag in his downtown Hollywood office.
Photo by Jerry Iannelli
Last Thursday, Tim Canova — the Nova Southeastern University law professor, former D.C. legislative aide, and Wall Street economics expert — announced he'll run for Congress for the second year in a row. His campaign last year was perhaps the most hotly covered 2016 congressional race after Bernie Sanders endorsed Canova's run.
New Times documented a series of high-profile squabbles between Canova and his big-name opponent, then-Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, including her months-long refusal to hold a televised debate (she eventually relented), the Florida Democratic Party's initial refusal to let Canova use the party's voter-data rolls, and even the fact that leaked emails showed Wasserman Schultz's DNC aides had been monitoring Canova's campaign in a possible violation of DNC bylaws.
Despite the brouhaha, Canova lost big in last year's primary. But now he's back, and because less than a year has passed since he lost, most of the issues his candidacy exposed remain relevant. Here are the biggest:
1. Wasserman Schultz's awful donation record and support for deeply unpopular corporations.
Wasserman Schultz's historical pool of donors reads like a murderer's row of corporate raiders, grifters, and robber barons: Everyone from Wall Street financiers to private-prison titans to the cable industry to Big Sugar lobbying firms to the predatory payday-lending industry have dumped money into her past campaigns. During her last reelection bid against Canova, she took $28,000 from Comcast; $24,000 from NextEra energy, Florida Power & Light's massive parent company; and $17,000 from the Big-Sugar Fanjul Corporation, according to OpenSecrets.org.
She has a long history of backing bills favorable to her donors. She supported building a private ICE detention center in Florida in 2011, which came back to haunt her last year. The same goes for plans she backed to help the payday-lending industry before she backed off due to criticism, as well as her consistent inability to take a stand on medical marijuana while taking tens of thousands of dollars from the alcohol industry, which opposes increased pot access and consistently lobbies against liberalized weed laws. Those are some mighty big conflicts. She also voted to give Barack Obama fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals that morphed into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was seen by middle-class voters as a huge gift to powerful companies. Trade ended up powering a significant amount of Trump's support last year.
2. Whether Canova's platform will catch on with Broward and Miami voters this time around.
Canova ran his 2016 campaign, and will run his 2018 one, as a "New Deal" Democrat, pushing plans he says are designed to bring about "full employment" and reduce economic burdens on the working class and nation's poor. He's pro-single-payer when it comes to medical insurance, pro-solar energy, anti-fracking, against massive trade pacts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and has protested hard against projects such as the Sabal Trail Transmission Pipeline. (Oddly, he's actually to the right of Wasserman Schultz when it comes to the Iran nuclear deal and support for Israel.) In the 2016 primary, that platform led to a double-digit loss in Florida's 23rd District, which encompasses southern Broward County and Miami Beach. But there appears to be a renewed zeal for farther-left issues in a post-Trump era, and the sort of centrism that mainstream liberals like Wasserman Schultz support might be on its way out. Activists in Miami have woken up since Trump won; they just might turn out for Canova, and it'll take fewer voters to win a primary in a midterm election because turnout tends to be low.
3. Canova's extremely bad answers about the Seth Rich conspiracy theory, as well as that time he suggested someone hacked the voting results in his election.
Canova has a penchant for delving into conspiracies and doubling down when criticized. Months after he lost last year, he posted repeatedly online that he thought Seth Rich, a former Democratic National Committee staffer, had potentially sent documents to WikiLeaks and had possibly been killed by the DNC led by Wasserman Schultz. That theory is, of course, insane and baseless.
Last Thursday, Canova refused to abandon the Rich theory outright. Instead of saying something simple, like "I believe my opponent is a shameless corporate grifter but did not actually murder someone," Canova said he "did not know what the DNC was capable of," which is about as poor an answer as he could have given. He deserves to be slammed for this.
Likewise, some folks have forgotten about that time earlier this year that Canova held a news conference to share data that he claimed showed the voting machines in his election had been hacked. C'mon, man.
4. Whether Canova can keep up the amount of donations he received last time around.
In 2016, Canova raised an astounding $3.8 million from small, individual donors in what looked to be a once-in-a-lifetime show of support from small-scale donors around the country. But (1) most of those donors weren't located in his district (Wasserman Schultz donors such as Comcast don't count as locals either, though), and (2) it's extremely unlikely he can pull off a fundraising feat like that again during a midterm election.
5. The fact that Wasserman Schultz hasn't accomplished all that much as a congresswoman and ran the Democratic Party into the ground as DNC chair.
Quick — what are some of Wasserman Schultz's legislative accomplishments? For the outsize amount of criticism she receives (most of it warranted, but also much of it also sexist), her list of career-defining laws is really thin for someone who's been in Congress for so long. On her biography page, she touts sponsoring the EARLY Act, which allocates money for breast-cancer education, but actually drew opposition from the American Cancer Society and National Breast Cancer Coalition when it was proposed. (Both groups claimed that much of the so-called education the bill promoted was frivolous.) The other major law she brings up during stump speeches is a bill that cracked down on childhood drowning. Both bills have objectively saved lives, but she has never really positioned herself as someone willing to fight for economic reforms or a more dovish foreign policy. She's a centrist.
As for her job as DNC chair: Well, the Democratic Party suffered historic election losses under her watch, and she had to resign in disgrace after the WikiLeaks debacle, so, yeah, it's pretty surprising she kept her seat last year.
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