Tim Canova's Loss Proves South Florida Doesn't Want a Progressive "Revolution"

Tim Canova stands in front of an American flag in his downtown Hollywood office.
Tim Canova stands in front of an American flag in his downtown Hollywood office.
Photo by Jerry Iannelli

Why is it so difficult for liberal candidates to get elected in South Florida? Tim Canova's loss to Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Florida's 23rd Congressional District primary last night is a good place to begin answering that question.

Going into yesterday's primary, Canova had everything going for him. His opponent had become the most controversial Democrat in Congress, and the Bernie Sanders movement united behind him, sending millions in donations Canova's way.

He was riding high by July, when Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign as Democratic National Committee chair after WikiLeaks published emails showing she'd used DNC employees to monitor Canova's campaign. The emails also showed DNC staffers conspiring to defeat Sanders. Wasserman Schultz had also drawn fire from the left by refusing to take a position on medical marijuana, voting to give President Obama the authority to fast-track trade agreements such as the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, and otherwise avoiding progressive causes.

Canova, meanwhile, had the pedigree of someone who should have rocketed to success in Washington. A Georgetown Law graduate, Canova worked as an aide to popular Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas in the '80s, has an encyclopedic knowledge of Federal Reserve policy, and served on Sanders' 2011 Wall Street-reform committee alongside Nobel laureates. Sanders himself had endorsed Canova, and by the end of primary season, Canova had amassed more than $3 million in donations.

But Canova failed big-time yesterday, losing 57 percent to 43 percent. Wasserman Schultz garnered 6,870 more votes than he received.

Tim Canova's Loss Proves South Florida Doesn't Want a Progressive "Revolution"
Florida Division of Elections

So what happened?

Canova was not without his faults — he centered too much of his platform on campaign-finance reform, often appeared to lack knowledge about people and issues specific to South Florida, waited too long to attack Wasserman Schultz in TV ads, and often seemed nervous and thin-skinned when confronted with questions for which he wasn't prepared.

But for a first-time candidate, he mostly did well with the media. Canova genuinely came across as someone who cared more about improving public policy and helping people than he did about political ladder-climbing.

Yesterday the Atlantic bit into Sanders supporters for not doing enough to help Canova topple Wasserman Schultz. Sanders himself declined to campaign in South Florida on Canova's behalf. Many in the national press are now pinning Canova's loss on Sanders and his supporters themselves — but, quite frankly, Canova's loss also had little to do with the pro-Sanders camp.

The fact is, he lost because South Florida voters simply rejected his ideas.

Canova was not a vanity candidate — he put forth a comprehensive list of policy proposals and, when asked, could rattle off legislative statutes pretty much verbatim. He campaigned aggressively in both south Broward and the Miami-Dade coastline — numerous Broward residents reported getting a flood of cold-calls from the Canova campaign, and Canova appeared to spend more time on the ground in South Florida than Wasserman Schultz.

Objectively, it appeared that Canova's message connected with more Americans than Wasserman Schulz's. Those supporters were incredibly vocal on Twitter and Reddit — organizers on the latter site were largely responsible for sending the flood of campaign cash that transformed Canova from a long shot into a legitimate challenger. But rather than becoming a local hero, he simply morphed into the nation's first social media carpetbagger.

It's often reported that the "establishment" Wasserman Schultz is "beloved" in her own district, and now we know why — most Miami-Dade and Broward voters are either elderly and change-averse or young beneficiaries of the status quo. (Broward did vote overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, after all.) If you've reached a point in your life when you can afford to own a condo in South Beach, you're likely not the type to push for progressive reform.

Canova was the right candidate for progressives in 2016. Those progressives just don't live here.


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