THE INCUMBENT AND THE CHALLENGER
By Lulu Friesdat
On August 30th incumbent Florida Congresswoman and former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz faced a tough primary challenge. Her opponent, Nova Southeastern University law professor Tim Canova had managed to focus the national outrage against her following her forced resignation as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, and made the election a referendum on her politics, policies and ethics.
Her DNC resignation followed revelations that Wasserman Schultz and other Democratic party officials were “conspiring to sabotage the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.” After Sanders lost the Democratic presidential primary, some considered this congressional district a proxy race, with Sanders endorsing Canova against his rival Hillary Clinton’s long-time ally Wasserman Schultz. Canova translated that endorsement into a fundraising bonanza, sparking national attention by raising over 3 million dollars. Open Secrets, a non-profit that tracks money in U.S. politics, says that 100% of those donations were from individual contributions, although according to the Sun Sentinel ninety percent of the money was from outside Florida, and may not have translated into local votes.
It was a campaign of firsts: Canova’s first run for office; Wasserman Schultz’ first ever primary opponent after 6 terms in Congress, and the first time a new district map was in place. The 23rd Congressional District, which lies primarily in Broward, but also has some precincts in Miami-Dade County, was redistricted in 2015 as part of a court order that found that the districts were being drawn to favor Republicans and incumbents.
The stakes were high for both candidates and the outcome was hard to predict.
Wasserman Schultz rallied her supporters starting at the very top. President Obama endorsed her; Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton personally stopped by her office; Gabrielle Giffords appeared with her at an anti-gun violence event; civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis walked her across a bridge; and Vice President Joe Biden shared an ice cream moment with her saying, “She’s my favorite person.” But Canova adopted many of Sanders’ signature issues, and Sanders’ supporters were hungry for a new candidate.
“Gibson Lopez, 18, of Davie, attended Canova’s primary night party … Lopez, who wore a ‘Berniecrats’ T-shirt, told Canova that he was the second person he ever voted for, after Sanders.” (Quote from the Sun Sentinel.)
There was one independent poll published during the race. The South Florida Sun Sentinel/Florida Atlantic University poll released nine days before the election had Wasserman Schultz ahead by 10 points. Not surprisingly, the candidates had starkly different perceptions of their odds. Canova’s team put out an internal poll a month before the election that aligned with the Sun Sentinel’s numbers. It showed Wasserman Schultz ahead by 8 points, but vulnerable with what the pollsters described as, “…a staggering decline from her popularity in past campaigns.” Canova’s deputy campaign manager said that based on door to door canvassing they had done the last four weeks before the election, he thought it was going to be neck and neck. “We were identifying our supporters to her supporters five to one,” he said in a phone interview.” In contrast, an internal Wasserman Schultz poll of 400 likely primary voters commissioned by the Patriot Majority PAC, showed Wasserman Schultz ahead by 33 points a month before the election. The Patriot Majority numbers were not representative of the Sun Sentinel poll. Florida Atlantic University professor Kevin Wagner, who helped conduct the Sun Sentinel poll, commented that the Wasserman Schultz survey, “…didn’t reflect what we came out with.”
On election night, Wasserman Schultz was announced the winner by a commanding lead of 13.5%. However, we have examined statistical analysis of the race from four separate analysts and after detailed demographic research have concluded that there are red flags that deserve further investigation.
STATISTICAL ANALYSIS OF THE RACE: “IMPLAUSIBLE”
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