The battle for an open Florida House seat is gaining national attention from the Republican Party.
With state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, leaving the House due to term limits, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), which defines itself as the “largest caucus of Republican state leaders in the country and the only national organization whose mission is to elect Republicans to multiple down-ballot, state-level offices,” is going to bat for Republican candidate John Couriel.
On Wednesday, the RSLC’s Future Majority Project (FMP) announced Couriel as one on their “16 for ‘16,” their top state office candidates across the country.
“As chairman of the Future Majority Project and a former state legislator, it really has been amazing to witness firsthand how FMP has already started to shake things up,” said former Oklahoma state House Speaker T.W. Shannon, the chairman of the FMP. “Since its inception in 2011, this initiative has grown immensely and made enormous strides towards creating a more representative democracy – one that truly reflects the beautiful and diverse makeup of our country. I look forward to growing on past victories this November, as our candidates continue to help the GOP reach new heights and create a better, stronger, more inclusive party.”
The seat has been competitive in recent years. Fresen squeaked by Democrat Ross Hancock in 2012, winning 51 percent to 49 percent. Two years later, Fresen won again, beating Democrat Daisy Baez and Hancock who was running with no party affiliation. Now Couriel faces Baez who won the Democratic primary last month.
Couriel’s background is impressive. The son of a Cuban refugee who came to America as part of Operation Pedro Pan during the 1960s, Couriel went to Harvard where he graduated magna cum laude, edited the Harvard Political Review and interned with Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida's Future. After graduating from Harvard Law, Couriel law-clerked for a federal judge, worked in powerhouse law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell and went on to work as assistant U.S. attorney.
In 2012, Couriel ran against longtime South Florida political fixture state Sen. Gwen Margolis and ended up taking 38 percent against her in the general election. But Couriel emerged as something of a winner, winning Republican hearts for challenging Margolis and taking the fight to her. There was no shame losing to a Democrat who had been winning elections in South Florida for 40 years, especially when she had Barack Obama and Bill Nelson pumping out turnout in her strongly Democratic district.
But Baez has a strong background of her own. A decorated Army vet, Baez has ties to the health care community and has been an active Democrat in Miami-Dade, attending the party’s national convention in Charlotte in 2012.