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.
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
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
Canova was the right candidate for progressives in 2016. Those progressives just don't live here.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.