MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — In the race for House District 26, Joe Garcia eked out a victory against opponent Annette Taddeo.
"Tonight, I am very grateful to the people of South Florida," Garcia said. "We set out to earn the votes of this community by talking about the issues that matter to everyday families and I'm honored to have earned their support."
Garcia, a Democrat, held the congressional seat from 2013 to 2015.
He will now challenge Republican incumbent Carlos Curbelo for the seat in November.
Following news of Garcia's win, Curbelo released a statement, which read:
"My record stands in stark contrast to that of my opponent. Mr. Garcia spent two years in Washington hurling insults and embarrassing himself and our community with corruption scandals that included federal convictions and jail time. Congress and our community need problem solvers, not a huckster with a well-documented history of denigrating those who disagree with him. Mr. Garcia lacks the temperament and the integrity necessary to effectively represent our community, and in election after election, the people of our community have rejected him, his corrupt campaigns, and his dishonesty. I am confident that will be the case again in November when the voters in Westchester, Kendall, South Dade, and the Florida Keys will embrace the future and again reject the petty politics and politicians of the past."
The Miami-area congressional seat is one of the nation's most competitive.
The race is key nationally to help give Democrats a shot at retaking the House — they need to pick up 30 seats.
Taddeo has attacked Garcia over a 2010 scandal in which a former Garcia campaign aide illegally financed a ringer tea party candidate in an attempt to siphon votes from Garcia's GOP rival, David Rivera. Despite the ringer, Rivera won in 2010. But Garcia beat him in 2012 as Rivera's campaign got caught financing a ringer Democratic candidate to attack Garcia in that primary.
Curbelo, a former school board member, beat Garcia 51 to 49 percent in 2014. But there are 9,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the district, which covers Miami's western and southern suburbs, the Florida Keys and a large chunk of the Everglades.
"This is a district that wants to turn the page and not go back to the scandal-ridden politicians who will do anything to get elected," said Taddeo, 49, who was the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party chair when Charlie Crist selected her as his running mate two years ago. They lost to Gov. Rick Scott. She also lost two earlier races: a 2008 bid against U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and for county commission two years later. She had raised $1.4 million through her last federal report on Aug. 10.
Garcia, 53, said he considers Taddeo a friend and is saddened she attacked his record. He said he is stressing his record from his previous stint in Congress, including signing up people in his district for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act and introducing a bipartisan immigration bill.
"I am convinced Hillary Clinton will be our next president, and she will need people who get in there and get things done," said Garcia, a past president of the Cuban American National Foundation. He had raised $595,000 through Aug. 10.
Curbelo, for his part, separated himself in March from eventual presidential nominee Donald Trump, saying the billionaire businessman reminds him of Hugo Chavez. That jab was a stinging insult among Miami's Cuban-American Republicans, who saw the late Venezuelan president as a communist strongman and Fidel Castro ally who drove his country into economic ruin. He said he will not vote for Clinton, either, saying he will vote for a third-party or write-in candidate.
Curbelo, who has no primary opponent, has raised $2.8 million for the general election. He said he will run as someone willing to work across the aisle.
"You can send flamethrowers to Washington or you can send problem-solvers," said Curbelo, 36. "I want to bring people together. That's something that is sorely lacking in this country."
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