Anxious to hold onto Florida's 25th Congressional District, Republicans are quietly maneuvering for the seat held by Rep. David Rivera.
Rivera, who was elected last year, has been dogged by allegations concerning past financial dealings. A criminal investigation is reportedly under way by the state attorney's office.
In the event that Rivera is sidelined -- or even if he isn't -- several big-name Republicans are said to be interested in running in the GOP-leaning district that stretches from Miami-Dade to Collier County.
Among the prospective, though unconfirmed, candidates:
ANITERE FLORES: State senator, chair of the Judiciary Committee. Considered to be a rising star in the Legislature.
RENE GARCIA: State senator, chair of Health Regulation Committee.
CARLOS LOPEZ-CANTERA: State representative, on a leadership track at the Legislature.
CARLOS CURBELO: Miami-Dade School Board member.
MARCELO LLORENTE: Former state representative who was term-limited. He is currently running for Miami-Dade County mayor, a job that will be filled in a special election this spring.
JUAN-CARLOS "J.C." PLANAS: Former state representative who was term-limited.
ARMANDO GUTIERREZ: Businessman who splits his time between Orlando and Miami. Briefly explored a run against Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson in Orlando last year.
ALEX DIAZ DE LA PORTILLA: Former state senator who was term-limited. Also served in the Florida House.
MIGUEL DIAZ DE LA PORTILLA: Newly elected state senator, who succeeded Alex.
RENIER DIAZ DE LA PORTILLA: Miami-Dade School Board member.
The lengthy list is a testament to the depth and breadth of the Republican bench in Miami-Dade. By contrast, the Democrats unsuccessfully ran the same candidate, Joe Garcia, in CD 25 in the past two elections -- and Garcia didn't even live in the district.
Miami-Dade Republican Party Executive Director J.C. Hernandez would not speak on the record about the GOP's prospects for the seat in 2012.
"Right now we're focusing on getting the word out about our Republican officeholders," he said.
The Republican National Congressional Committee says it has no dog in the race, other than Rivera.
"We don't recruit candidates in districts held by incumbents," said RNCC spokeswoman Joanna Burgos.
But while Burgos said the RNCC doesn't help challengers take on sitting GOP congressmen, she declined to say what role the committee might play if Rivera were to face a primary fight.
"We'd have to have to look at that on a case-by-case basis," Burgos said.
Thus far, Rivera's ongoing legal complications have not shaken Miami-Dade's Republican base, at least not publicly.
"They're loyal till they're not -- then they will drop like flies," said Sean Foreman, assistant professor of political science at Barry University. "One thing you can count on: Rivera will fight to the end."
But Foreman also predicted that Rivera could have a tougher battle in a GOP primary than he would in a general election.
None of the rumored candidates contacted by Sunshine State News would commit on the record to challenging Rivera.
Curbelo, in an e-mail, stated: "It is premature to speculate with regard to CD 25. Unless there is a major development in the coming months, I support the decision voters made last November."
Rivera did not make himself available to comment, and his office e-mailed a statement Thursday saying:
"Congressman Rivera is completely focused on representing the residents of Congressional District 25 and working on policies to improve the economy and create jobs. Congressman Rivera believes there will be more than enough time for campaign politics after the reapportionment process is completed next year.
"The congressman has no information about any 'ongoing investigation.'"
Though Rivera has strong name recognition from his years as a state legislator (including a stint as House Budget Committee chairman under friend and then-Speaker Marco Rubio), not all of that publicity has been salutary. The hard-working party operative can also come off as abrasive, arrogant or bullying.
Is he perceived as damaged goods?
"Rivera will get a '12 primary," predicted South Florida-based political consultant Roger Stone. "The man is a menace. I truly expect him to be indicted by then."
Meanwhile, other Republicans -- notably the Diaz de la Portilla brothers -- appear well-positioned with longstanding name recognition of their own. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla is strategically situated on the Legislature's redistricting committee, while brother Alex is currently out of office and available to run.
Stone says to keep an eye on RenierDiaz de la Portilla.
"He is a hard charger, very smart, and can raise money."
Said another GOP consultant speaking on condition of anonymity:
"There are a lot of pent-up office-seekers out there. It's just a question of who has the stomach and the resources to take Rivera on."
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.