Susan Valdes, the early favorite in the Democratic primary race for Florida House District 62, has run a gaffe-riddled campaign but she won’t be branded the biggest loser if opponent Michael Alvarez pulls an upset next Tuesday.
That honor will belong to outgoing state Rep. Janet Cruz, who represents at present the Tampa district. The term-limited Cruz is challenging incumbent Republican state Sen. Dana Young in District 18.
Cruz endorsed former School Board member Valdes until it was publicly revealed that Valdes reneged on a campaign promise that she would not accept contributions from charter school organizers. Cruz, then with much fanfare Monday, withdrew the endorsement only hours after Tampa Bay Beat ran a story about Valdes’ duplicity.
Even the most gullible voter doesn’t believe Cruz was previously unaware of the Valdes/charter school link. While on the Hillsborough County School Board, Valdes made no secret of the fact that, unlike most Democrats, her values were in sync with the charter school movement.
Public school teachers, administrators, and parents of students are steaming at Cruz. Losing that constituency would toll the death knell over her previously reeling campaign.
At the outset of the House race, Valdes was deemed the favorite, but a series of unforced errors has shifted the momentum to Alvarez, who has received heavyweight endorsements from the Florida Education Association, Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, Congresswoman Kathy Castor, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
Activist Chris Cano is the third candidate in the race. The winner of the Democratic primary is tantamount to election in this district.
By backing Valdes, Cruz lost the support of many educators and parents of K-12 students. If Valdes prevails, opposition within the Democratic Party will be completely unforgiving. After all, Cruz withdrew her endorsement only eight days before the election, when Valdes’ deceit became exposed in the public sphere.
Young was considered a vulnerable incumbent in February with Democrats stamping the Florida Senate seat as flippable. That notion evaporated when Cruz and the Florida Democratic Party forced progressive champion Bob Buesing out of the race.
Buesing ran against Young two years ago with conventional wisdom attributing his defeat to independent candidate Joe Redner’s presence on the ballot. Young polled under 50 percent and Redner passed on the race this year.
Buesing had been campaigning since the fall of 2017, developing an organization, building a war chest, and lining up endorsements. He had an enthusiastic cadre of young, progressive volunteers at the ready.
The interference of FDP Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo and party dinosaur Alex Sink pressured Buesing out of the race in favor of the establishment-connected Cruz.
The blowback was immediate. Progressives resented the betrayal and swore they would withhold their votes from Cruz rather than reward treachery. Efforts by the Cruz camp to mend fences failed miserably.
With little more than two months remaining until the general election, Young has been far more visible in the district and has a huge fundraising edge. She recently won an important endorsement: the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Jim Bleyer, a former reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Tribune, writes the Tampa Bay Beat blog.