As Joe Garcia becomes a national punchline, Republicans have reasons to smile, even as David Rivera remains in the race.
Garcia has had an awful two weeks due to his own blunders. A video taken during a committee hearing showing Garcia digging in his ear and then eating his own earwax took off with millions of viewers taking it in. The South Florida Democrat didnt help himself by insisting he was actually going after a fingernail.
Then on Tuesday night, Garcia handed the Republicans a golden opportunity in a meandering, often incoherent ramble during a Google Hangout in which he said communism works and brought up the idea of giving out government jobs to keep crime low before shooting it down. Republicans quickly made political hay out of Garcias comments.
In retrospect, it increasingly appears Garcia caught lightning in a bottle in 2012 when he beat the scandal-tainted Rivera. Based on his bumbling performance over the last year and a half which also includes his team being ensnared in a voter fraud scandal, Garcias losses to Rivera in 2010 and to Mario Diaz-Balart in 2008 are more typical than his win in 2012 when he had Barack Obamas and Bill Nelsons coattails to ride in on.
Garcia can still get his groove back, especially if Rivera wins the Republican primary at the end of August. But Rivera has done little since making his surprise annoucement at the start of this month that he is running again. Rivera is certainly a factor in the primary and he knows South Florida well from his many years of running campaigns and working with the Miami-Dade GOP. But he only has a three-month window. Rivera needs to ramp it up soon.
For now, Carlos Curbelo is the front-runner to win the Republican primary. Already relying on the support of Jeb Bush and George LeMieux, Curbelo has gotten the support of even more leading Republicans since Rivera surfaced. Both the Diaz-Balart brothers and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen took sides once Rivera popped back up, backing Curbelo over the former congressman. Riveras longtime friend and ally Marco Rubio also headed to the high ground, saying he had no intention of taking sides in the primary. Rubio, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen all served alongside Rivera and none of them is sticking with their former colleague. Curbelo is also getting national attention, including the Washington Post recognizing him as a political star who is under 40.
With Curbelo in solid shape against Rivera so far, Garcia needs to get his act together. Even with his A-game, Garcia will find Curbelo a tough outcome November. Unlike Rivera and Garcia, Curbelo isnt tainted with scandals and Republicans are starting to get behind him. With Patrick Murphy in surprisingly strong shape up I-95, Garcia increasingly offers the best -- perhaps only -- chance for the GOP to take down a Democrat congressman in Florida. Those odds will only increase if Garcia continues to make the unforced errors hes made in recent days.
Tallahassee-based political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.