David Rivera shocked the political world last week when he filed to run against Joe Garcia despite facing an ongoing FBI corruption probe -- and theres a method to his apparent madness.
Its easy to write Rivera off as an egotist with delusions of a political comeback in his mind. But Rivera is as shrewd as they come; someone who has held office and knows the party machinery well from his days in charge of the Miami-Dade GOP. Garcias also fighting off scandal reports and Rivera could think his own problems could be shifted to the back burner.
Rivera is also looking at a crowded Republican primary. The GOP leadership is behind Carlos Curbelo who sits on the Miami Dade School Board and, by the end of March, was sitting on more than $792,500 in the bank. None of the other Republicans were close to Curbelo. Joe Martinez is pretty well-known from his time on the County Commission and for running for mayor in 2012, but he had under $50,000. Ed MacDougall had less than $43,000 while Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck had less than $39,000.
Martinez, MacDougall and Palomares-Starbuck might not have much chance of winning the nomination but they do have a chance to shape the race. Its certainly within the realm of possibility that the three candidates could end up with 30 percent of the vote or so between the lot of them. Despite the likes of Jeb Bush and George LeMieux getting on the Curbelo bandwagon, Rivera has at least a chance of besting him in a crowded primary. Whatever his faults and failings, Rivera knows how Miami-Dade Republicans vote and hes pulled in more than his share of IOUs from his time in Tallahassee when he was one of the key legislators behind the budget.
The Republican leadership will reinforce Curbelo in the days to come. Its already started as Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whos been representing South Florida in Congress since 1988, came out behind Curbelo this weekend. Look for other prominent Republicans to hop on the Curbelo bandwagon as they try to ensure Rivera doesnt end up as their nominee.
As Republicans hash it all out, Garcia gets to sit in the cat-bird seat for the moment. Curbelo will now have to spend more to win the primary while Garcia can sit on his war chest. If Rivera pulls off the upset, Garcia should be a heavy favorite.
But Curbelo does have a major opportunity here. He can paint himself as a contrast to Rivera and Garcia and that can help him if he survives the primary. Despite the headlines hes created and the continuing stories about scandals, Rivera is not a lightweight and his bid is no laughing matter. Rivera has a chance to beat Curbelo even though its not probable. The former congressman will be a factor in this race, much to the dismay of Curbelo and the Republican leadership.
Tallahassee-based political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.