Wasserman Schultz Faces Tough Primary Against Sanders-Endorsed Canova

Aug 16, 2016
Originally published on August 16, 2016 8:00 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And the last few months have been challenging for Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She was forced to resign as head of the Democratic National Committee after leaked emails showed DNC staff worked to undermine Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign. Now, she's fighting to keep her seat in Congress. NPR's Greg Allen reports Wasserman Schultz is facing her toughest primary challenge since she was first elected 12 years ago.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Tim Canova hasn't run for office before, but his race against Debbie Wasserman Schultz has gained national attention. For the most part, it's because of the money he's raised - some $3 million, outraising his opponent in the latest quarter. Much of the money came in after he was endorsed by Sanders. Canova is a former Sanders adviser and a law professor at south Florida's Nova University. In a debate Sunday on Miami's CBS 4, Canova defended his main line of attack against Wasserman Schultz - that she's too close to Wall Street banks and corporations and out of touch with her district.

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TIM CANOVA: I think her politics have shifted a lot over the years. I think, when she was first elected many years ago to the state House, she was much, much more progressive and liberal. Now, she's just liberal and not as progressive.

ALLEN: Canova's campaign got a boost last month when the leaked DNC emails proved to be a major embarrassment that forced Wasserman Schultz to step down as party chair person. In one of the emails, DNC staffers discuss possibly using Sanders' religious beliefs against him in the Democratic primary. In the debate, Wasserman Schultz said she condemned that discussion, and the staffer involved was fired. As to the culture at the DNC where staff members were actively working behind the scenes to help her get re-elected, Wasserman Schultz said there's nothing wrong with that. But she said those leaked emails, believed from Russian hackers, won't determine the outcome of the race.

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DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: It will be decided and should be decided not on the content of private emails that were stolen by Russian spies, but on who is best-suited and the most prepared and has the most experience to represent this district and be...

ALLEN: Florida's primary is on August 30. The only polls in the race have been released by the campaigns. One conducted by Canova's campaign showed him just eight points behind Wasserman Schultz. A poll by a PAC supporting Wasserman Schultz showed her up by 33 points. Canova's progressive ideas and connections with Sanders helped him build an impressive network of supporters across the country. But Sean Foreman, a political science professor from Barry University, says that national base may not help him much in a district where Hillary Clinton beats Sanders with nearly 70 percent of the vote.

SEAN FOREMAN: There's a reason why Debbie Wasserman Schultz hasn't been challenged previously in primaries - is because she fits the district pretty well in terms of her economic and social policy and in terms of her own demographic, being a Jewish woman of middle-class values.

ALLEN: One of the most heated moments in Sunday's debate involved Israel, a perennial hot topic in the heavily Jewish congressional district. Wasserman Schultz attacked Canova over a proposal on his website calling for disarmament in the Middle East. She said that would mean stripping weapons from Israel. Put on the defensive, Canova said his proposal didn't include Israel. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.