There is no way a non-Cuban Hispanic can unseat a Cuban-American congresswoman who has enjoyed the unflinching support of el exilio for two decades, right?
Well, Annette Taddeo is betting $350,000 of her own money that on November 4 she will beat Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. That's how much the Colombian-American entrepreneur has loaned her campaign in a congressional race that hasn't drawn the media attention of Raul and Joe versus the Diaz-Balarts.
"I believe not being Cuban and not being a politician presents an opportunity," Taddeo says. "I think it's a plus rather than a minus."
Taddeo is the owner of LanguageSpeak, a 15-year-old translation services company. Her family moved to Miami when she was 17 years old, after her father, a retired U.S. Air Force pilot, escaped capture by Colombian guerrillas. "He was kidnapped," she says, "but he talked his way out of it. Since the rebels don't like to be tricked, especially by a gringo, we had to leave the country."
In 1989, Ros-Lehtinen became the first Hispanic woman, and the first Cuban-American female, to be elected to Congress. She has been a champion of the Miami River and has lobbied against ending the embargo on Cuba. During her last election in 2006, Ros-Lehtinen won by a convincing 62 percent of the vote.
Though Taddeo trailed by 13 points in a recent poll conducted by Telemundo 51, she stands a chance. Non-Cuban Hispanics have replaced Cuban-Americans as the state's dominant Latino voting bloc, and according to the poll, she has a slight lead among them (39 percent to 36 percent). Twenty-five percent are still undecided.
Ros-Lehtinen is also feeling the fallout of 2002 redistricting. Her district lost a huge chunk of Hialeah and, with it, many traditional Cuban-American Republican voters. Today the district includes more Democrat-friendly Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, and Key West.
Indeed, since June, Taddeo has cut Ros-Lehtinen's lead in half. "Anyone who thinks Ileana is safe is sadly mistaken."