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Gimenez looks ahead in Florida's new 28th District. But Asencio hopes to 'marshal' Dem potential

Former Florida state Rep. Robert Asencio (left) is the Democratic challenger to Republican Miami Congressman Carlos Gimenez in the state's new 28th congressional district, including South Dade and Monroe Counties.
Lynne Sladky (right)
Florida House of Representatives (left), AP
Former Florida state Rep. Robert Asencio (left) is the Democratic challenger to Republican Miami Congressman Carlos Gimenez in the state's new 28th congressional district, which includes South Dade and Monroe Counties.

Republican U.S. Representative Carlos Gimenez is a heavy favorite to win Florida’s new 28th congressional district next week. But Democratic challenger Robert Asencio believes the state’s southern tip holds large untapped potential for his party.

“People are tired and they want change. And in spite of hearing the rhetoric, the chatter, the blame, they want to do better,” said Asencio.

He is a former police officer and Florida state representative. As a Puerto Rican, Asencio says he understands the economic struggles of the 28th District’s mostly Latino and minority residents. South Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties are known for low-wage service and agricultural jobs.

“A lot of people in the southern part of Dade County and the Keys are underemployed and underpaid,” he said. “We need to figure out a way to expand their earning potential. Greater training incentives, emerging industries.”

That is one of the reasons why the Miami Herald endorsed Asencio. Gimenez did not respond to WLRN’s request for an interview. He currently holds the old 26th District seat, which he won in 2020. And his campaign has $2 million to spend compared to less than $50,000 for Asencio.

But Gimenez, who is the former mayor of Miami-Dade County, is often criticized for being focused more on national issues than South Florida’s.

He also still stands behind his vote on Jan. 6, 2021 not to certify legitimate Electoral College votes for President Biden. Asencio says that’s also a big reason he’s challenging Gimenez.

“Congressman Gimenez is one of 147 members of Congress who bought into 'The Big Lie,'” he said.

“The Big Lie” is former President Donald Trump’s false claim that he beat Biden but was unseated by vote fraud.

Gimenez insists he has delivered public works for southernmost Florida. Polls show a strong likelihood he’ll win. But the 28th is still considered a swing district, with more than a third of its voters registered as independent.

Living in the district

Venus Fernandez Lovely heads the South Dade Democratic Black Caucus. She thinks the district’s representative should live within the district to better understand its needs. While Asencio lives there, Gimenez lives in Coconut Grove instead.

“South Dade, District 28, has agriculture, it has urban societies, we have migrant workers. So it's important for somebody to know this. And I don't know if [Gimenez] knows that,” she said, adding that she has never seen the congressman in her district.

Gimenez is Cuban-American, a demographic that votes mostly Republican in Miami-Dade today. But District 28 includes non-Cuban Latino communities that lean Democratic. Either way, Asencio, who has a low-key campaign style, admits he’s in a David-and-Goliath battle.

“It’s about marshaling every person, every community group that we know, every stakeholder that we can reach,” he said.

If Asencio wins it would be more than an upset — it would also be a comeback for a Miami politician. He lost his state representative seat in 2018, and a bid for the Miami-Dade County Commission in 2020.

Helen Acevedo, a freelance producer, is a grad student at Florida International University studying Spanish-language journalism, a bilingual program focused on telling the stories of diverse communities.
Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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