Poll: Rivera, Garcia Feeling Miami Heat

Locked in a statistical tie, Democrats hope to take Republican House seat
By: Kenric Ward | Posted: October 28, 2010 4:05 AM
Joe Garcia and David Rivera -- Sunshine State News Poll

Joe Garcia and David Rivera. Garcia credit: Ixamar Palumbo

While most of Florida's 25 congressional races tilt toward Republicans this year, Democrats' best chance for a takeaway is in South Florida's sprawling 25th District, a new Sunshine State News Poll shows.

Republican David Rivera holds a 44-43 lead over Democrat Joe Garcia in a four-way contest for the seat being vacated by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami.

TEA Party candidate Rolly Arrojo garnered 6 percent, Whig Party hopeful Craig Porter got 2 percent and 5 percent were undecided in the Oct. 25-26 poll.

"Rivera should be considered the slight favorite to win based on historical voting patterns, but there are some red flags that could tilt this race to Garcia," said Jim Lee, president of Voter Survey Service, which conducted the poll.

Two things going for Rivera:

  • He has a 39/36 favorable/unfavorable rating compared with 35/43 for Garcia.
  • He leads among the most likely voters by a 48-41 margin.

"Although Rivera’s image isn’t great, his tenure as an 8-year incumbent in the state House clearly has paid off, and based on this better image it seems as if the negative publicity surrounding income he received from a company he started years ago isn’t hurting his prospects for winning just yet," Lee said.

But the 25th District, which stretches across the Everglades from Miami to Naples, has been trending more Democratic in recent years -- a shift that prompted Diaz-Balart to move to the more reliably Republican 21st District seat being vacated by his brother, Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

Though President George W. Bush carried the 25th District in 2004 by 10 points, John McCain won it by only 51-49 in 2008.

Joe Garcia and David Rivera -- Sunshine State News Poll Table

While President Barack Obama’s job approval is a less-than-stellar 44/49 there, it remains better than in other districts polled by Sunshine State News and stronger than his statewide average.

"This is largely because independents in the 25th District still give the president a positive 47/38 job approval, and this could be important because independents currently lean toward Garcia 45-35. In a close race they could put him over the top," Lee said.

Arrojo, the TEA Party candidate, also could have a spoiler effect on Rivera because he’s getting 8 percent of the GOP vote.

Ironically, Arrojo is an unknown to the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party itself. Party chairman Fred O'Neal said he has had no contact with Arrojo. The candidate did not respond to Sunshine State News' requests for comment.

Despite Arrojo's invisibility on the campaign trail, his 8 percent in the polls is siphoning Republican votes from Rivera.

"If you back out Arrojo's 8 percent, Rivera’s high water mark with Republicans could be 85 percent if he gets all the remaining undecided Republicans to break for him," Lee said.

"In comparison, Garcia is already winning Democrats 83-9, with the potential to go even higher if the remaining undecided Democrats vote for him."

However, both Arrojo and the Whig candidate Porter are getting a combined 13 percent of the vote among independents, which could work against Garcia. 

Lee summed up: "It all comes down to how these remaining undecided voters cast their ballots. If you give the remaining undecided Republicans to Rivera and the remaining undecided Democrats and independents to Garcia, you have a 46-46 tie, so this is definitely one to watch."

Both Rivera and Garcia have polarized the heavily Latino district, politically and personally. The two have split on Cuba, with Rivera favoring continued tough policies against the communist country and Garcia, when he talks about it at all, calling for greater engagement.

Rivera, at times a divisive figure, has failed to win endorsements from local legislative leaders in his own party. Garcia -- a former Public Service Commission member and, most recently, an Obama appointee to a midlevel Energy Department post -- failed to win the backing of his primary election rival, Luis Meurice.

Adding to the intrigue, the job-hopping Garcia does not live in the district.

"He has had six jobs in six years. How could you connect with people who are trying to hold on to one job," Meurice told the Miami Herald.

Republicans on Wednesday celebrated the dismissal of a complaint that could have knocked Rivera off the ballot. Filed by allies of Garcia and alleging that Rivera submitted inaccurate financial statements to the state, the complaint was rejected by a Miami-Dade circuit court judge.

Speaking of his longtime friend and former House colleague, U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio confidently predicts that Rivera will prevail on Election Day, as well.

"David Rivera will win. The voters in District 25 don't want Nancy Pelosi to be their next congressman," Rubio told Sunshine State News.

Garcia spokesman Jeff Garcia (no relation) said the Democrat's campaign is "very encouraged" in the final days running up to Nov. 2.

"We're getting nothing but positive feedback. David Rivera can't give a straight answer to save his life," spokesman Garcia said.

Meanwhile, Porter, who advertises himself as the first Whig candidate to run for federal office in 150 years, says he's "the only candidate in this race without a communist agenda."

Decrying the two-party system, Porter predicted that if Republicans take over the House, "they will do nothing different except raise your taxes in other ways."

Said Rivera spokeswoman Leslie Veiga, "We are confident that the voters will vote for fiscal conservative David Rivera over Washington insider and Nancy Pelosi backer Joe Garcia. The momentum is with David Rivera."

The Sunshine State News Poll of 700 likely voters has a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percent.


Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341


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