Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has been sounding an awful lot like Donald Trump lately. Since announcing a run for Congress in January, the term-limited Gimenez has devoted much attention to socialism, the "radical left," and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders — all constant features of Trump's Twitter rants.
It's little surprise that Republicans like Trump are looking to make the 2020 presidential election a referendum on socialism, but it becomes slightly more of a stretch in a down-ballot race such as the one Gimenez is running against Democratic incumbent Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who, by all accounts, is far from a socialist. Nevertheless, Gimenez and the groups supporting him seem to have found what they consider a winning message and decided to go for broke following Sanders' compliments regarding literacy programs under the Castro regime in Cuba.
Within a week of those comments, the GOP online fundraising platform WinRed capitalized on the remarks for Gimenez's campaign: "Can you chip in $5 to help us defeat Castro-loving socialists like Bernie Sanders?" The message was also sent in a text blast to constituents in Florida's 26th Congressional District, which spans from South Miami-Dade to Key West.
WinRed is not directly affiliated with the Gimenez campaign. But when New Times asked whether the mayor condoned the language used in the ad, his spokesperson appeared to double down on the message: "Bernie Sanders is a Castro-loving socialist. Someone should ask [Mucarsel-Powell] why she refuses to condemn him and pledge to not support him as the nominee."
The spokesperson did not say whether Gimenez believes Mucarsel-Powell was a socialist or a member of the radical left.
Sanders' Castro comments, made last month on a segment of CBS' 60 Minutes, caused a storm in South Florida and attracted the ire of politicians from both sides of the aisle — including Mucarsell-Powell, a progressive Democrat.
"As the first South American immigrant member of Congress who proudly represents thousands of Cuban Americans, I find Senator Bernie Sanders' comments on Castro's Cuba absolutely unacceptable," she wrote.
As the first South American immigrant member of Congress who proudly represents thousands of Cuban Americans, I find Senator Bernie Sanders’ comments on Castro’s Cuba absolutely unacceptable.— Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (@DebbieforFL) February 24, 2020
Still, Gimenez took to Twitter a few days later to bash Mucarsel-Powell for sitting out a House vote on a resolution, sponsored by Florida Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, to condemn Sanders' comments. (Sen. Rick Scott also made hay of the vote on Twitter that day.)
South Florida Democrats including Mucarsel-Powell and U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala have been forced to strike a delicate balance in their response to Sanders. Predictably, the Vermont senator's comments haven't exactly played well among many Cuban-Americans in the area. At the same time, Sanders remains one of the top contenders for the Democratic nomination — at the time of his comments, he was leading nationwide. A break with the top of one's ticket doesn't make for a good electoral strategy.
A spokesperson for Mucarsel-Powell told New Times WinRed's Gimenez ad was an attempt to distract voters from the mayor's "terrible record."
"Carlos Gimenez has no answer for his radical corruption, including his family's ties to the firm who built the collapsed FIU bridge, his no-bid contracts and subsidies to political donors, and his shady deals with Donald Trump," the spokesperson said. "South Florida voters know that anything else Corrupt Carlos says is an attempt to distract from his terrible record as mayor."
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Gimenez has been happy to charge Mucarsel-Powell with hypocrisy and timidity in her response to Sanders' comments, yet the outgoing Republican mayor hasn't fared well when it comes to standing up to figures in his own party. One would be hard-pressed to find a single negative comment from Gimenez about Trump in the past few years. But it wasn't always this way.
In fact, Gimenez voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and publicly stated Trump should retire from the race following the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape. But then Trump won the election, and Gimenez flip-flopped. In 2017, he became the first mayor of any major metropolitan area to give in to the administration's threats against so-called sanctuary cities. Over the following years, Trump would go on to praise a who's who of authoritarian rulers around the world, including North Korea's Kim Jong-un and Russia's Vladimir Putin.
Then it all came full circle. The very first tweet from the Gimenez campaign's Twitter account in January was a message welcoming Trump to Miami. On January 23, the campaign account tweeted at Trump: "I look forward to standing w/ you against the radical left who are determined to turn the U.S. into Venezuela. I'm running!"
Welcome to Miami @realDonaldTrump. Thank you for all you’ve done for our economy & to fight socialism. I look forward to standing w/ you against the radical left who are determined to turn the U.S. into Venezuela. I'm running! Join the #FL26 fight here >> https://t.co/cqWw2P8vcV— Carlos Gimenez for Congress (@CarlosGimenezFL) January 23, 2020