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Salazar wins closely watched race in a landslide against Taddeo

Maria Elvira Salazar victory 2022
Daniel Rivero
/
WLRN
Republican Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar gives a victory speech at her election night watch party at La Carreta restaurant in Little Havana on November 8, 2022.

In what was widely considered the most competitive congressional race in Florida, Republican incumbent Maria Elvira Salazar won reelection for Florida’s 27th Congressional District in a landslide.

At a party in the back of the La Carreta Cuban restaurant, the crowd exuded confidence for their candidate before the numbers were released. Then, the very second the first results came out with Republican Maria Elvira Salazar in a strong position, a collective welp of victory was unleashed.

“Maria Elvira!” chanted the crowd. Shortly after followed chants of “libertad!” Freedom.

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In what was widely considered the most competitive congressional race in the state, incumbent Maria Elvira Salazar has won reelection for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, besting opponent Democratic State Senator Annette Taddeo in a landslide 15-point victory.

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The broadly defined anti-socialist and anti-communist fervor that was the hallmark of her campaign was readily apparent, with campaign staff and attendees shouting “comunismo, no!” with many linking Democrats and President Biden to the communism they fled from in Cuba.

“In the last two years the radical left has tried to change the course of this country. But the founding fathers created a system that was too strong and is still standing on the pillars of faith, family and freedom,” Salazar declared in her victory speech.

Salazar’s landslide victory is perhaps the most stand-out bullet point in a political shift that has large implications for all of Florida moving forward: Miami-Dade County voted majority Republican in countywide races for the first time since 2002.

“It’s not that Hispanics left the Democratic Party, it's that the Democratic Party left the Hispanics,” Salazar said in an interview with WLRN. “We’re family people, we’re faith people. And when you start talking about sexuality to kindergarten kids, there’s something that doesn’t jive. And that’s why I think we’re coming in hordes.”

After winning her second term in office, Salazar promised to work across the aisle with Democrats, especially in areas where she said there could be common cause.

“I’m gonna do it with immigration. I’m gonna do it with what is good for my district – climate change, protecting the police. I’ve done it. I did it. I was a freshman, now I’m gonna be a sophomore,” she said.

Salazar has introduced a major bill that could legalize the status of millions of undocumented immigrants while adding more funding to border security. She also co-sponsored a bipartisan climate change bill, but she voted against major climate change bills that were passed along party lines this year.

“I’m going across the aisle, I certainly hope they can meet me in the middle,” said Salazar.

Both candidates in the congressional race traded blows by calling each other “socialists” as a main line of attack. For Republicans to paint their opponents as socialists is not new in South Florida politics, but Taddeo maintained that Salazar supporting abortion restrictions amounted to socialism because it entails government control of women.

As a teenager in her native Colombia, Taddeo’s father was kidnapped by the Marxist guerilla terrorist group the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC. Her father was an American citizen giving her American citizenship by birth, and she fled Colombia to the U.S. Taddeo heavily leaned on that first-hand narrative with Marxists to deflect the attack in a heavily Cuban-American district, while also pushing for progressive policies.

In a recent interview with WLRN, Taddeo suggested that her campaign could soon be seen as a “model” for how Democrats can still win in Miami-Dade County. That prediction did not pan out.

At Democrat Taddeo’s watch party in South Miami, her supporters fretted that those predictions did not not come true, as the “socialista” label stuck.

“She is that person who should be able to combat that label of ‘socialista’ and she has the street cred to combat it, but there is a machine at work in the Republican Party that has the ground game to be able to bring people out to the polls. We as Democrats have a harder time bringing people together around that one single message,” said Kayla Cartwright, a Miami management consultant and campaign volunteer.

In recent days, Taddeo’s campaign shared a video of Colombian ex-president Ivan Duque, a staunch anti-socialist, praising the candidate.

“When I see you guys, you know what happens to me? That I always feel so proud of how Colombian Americans have done so much in U.S. politics,” Duque told a crowd of Colombian-American leaders in one of the videos, which was filmed over the summer. “And I know we’re going to get pretty soon to Capitol Hill, and one day we’re going to have a Colombian American at the White House, for sure.”

Lida Stanihar, a Colombian supporter of Salazar, said between sips of a mojito that the video and comments from President Duque could not shake her conviction that Taddeo is simply aligned with the wrong people – Democrats.

“Those of us that are here, outside of Colombia, we see what’s happening. Especially in Miami, where it’s very unique politically. It’s not a question of political parties, it’s a matter of which path you choose as a candidate,” said Stanihar. “We can’t have open borders. That’s what worries us here.”

The 27th Congressional District has for the last few election cycles been a veritable battleground among Republicans and Democrats. Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen held the seat for twenty years before retiring in 2019. That year, Democrat Donna Shalala won the seat. The following cycle, in 2020, Republican Salazar won it, despite the district also voting three points in favor of Democrat Joe Biden for president. It was one of only sixteen districts across the nation to split the ticket in 2020, sending one party to Congress and another to the White House.

“It was the biggest upset in the country according to many experts,” reflected Salazar in an interview. “Now it’s fifteen points ahead. Hey – I won by two! So I’ve gained – I did something right.”

The ticket-splitting reality of the past, coupled with the political back and forth across cycles made it a target for aspiring Democrats to perhaps pick up a seat this cycle in an effort to hold the House of Representatives in Democratic control.

Those efforts were frustrated by a redistricting effort that removed Democrat-friendly Miami Beach from the district this time around, adding more Republican-friendly areas in the mainland in its place. But even that could not account for the major shift that the district has undergone.

“Salazar has done so much for the Hispanic community. She speaks for us, she responds to us,” said Orlando Lopez, the president of the Honduran Integrated Organization Francisco Morazan, a community non-profit that works with Central Americans. “She’s very popular in the community, not like other people who get elected and then disappear. She talks with us.”

One prominent Taddeo supporter lamented a key factor in the race that was apparent before votes were ever being tallied: Republican turnout in early voting and vote-by-mail ballots outpaced Democrats, who typically hold an edge for that kind of voting.

“Annette Taddeo was a superb candidate. She had the perfect profile for this district. They turned out their voters, we did not turn out our voters,” said Democrat Donna Shalala, the former congresswoman who represented the district between 2019 and 2021. “We simply didn’t turn out the Democrats.”

At her watch party, Taddeo railed against the Florida Democratic Party and its overall performance in the 2022 elections, from everything to voter registration to messaging, to turning out registered voters.

"We not only need to get to work — enough with the studies and the committees and the 'figuring out what went wrong' — we know what went wrong. We know what's wrong. We know how to win in Florida, and Florida can be won again. But we need to organize and we need to realize that you can't just go 'ugh' and walk away, which is what Democrats do," said Taddeo. "Do you know what Republicans do? They lose in Florida and they invest even more, they spend even more time with the people. They communicate in Spanish and in English and in Creole and they target minority communities. But guess who does the work for minority communities? Democrats."

Salazar told WLRN that with her double-digit victory now secured, she feels more firmly placed in the district, and she doubts it will be considered a swing, flippable district for much longer.

“I know the difference between Cutler Ridge, Cutler Bay, Palmetto Bay, and Little Havana, East Kendall, or Key Biscayne, South Miami and Pinecrest and Coral Gables,” she said, rattling off the areas of her district. “I know the difference and I know who lives there, what they want, and I’m trying to give them what they need, and apparently I did it.”

Maria Alonzo, a campaign staffer that spent months making phone calls and knocking on doors, put her assessment of the big picture bluntly.

“She’s here to stay,” said Alonzo, in Spanish. “And from Congress to the Senate and from there to the Presidency. We have something so special here with her and at some point we’re going to have to spread it around.”

WLRN reporter Tim Padgett contributed to this report

Daniel Rivero is a reporter and producer for WLRN, covering Latino and criminal justice issues. Before joining the team, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion.