South Florida Congressional Race Too Close to Call

October 10, 2014

Republican Carlos Curbelo holds a slight lead over Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia of Florida, 46-42, in the South Florida congressional district 26, according to a new survey conducted by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute. The result falls within the poll’s margin of error and the race should be considered a dead heat.

Of the 435 U.S. House of Representatives’ contests in this year’s mid-term elections, there only about 30 that are hotly contested for control of the chamber, and the Curbelo-Garcia race in South Florida is one of them.

“Congressman Garcia is in a weaker position than he may have hoped for with less than a month to go in the campaign,” said Frank Orlando, political science instructor at Saint Leo University. “Curbelo, the Republican challenger, can take satisfaction in knowing that over twice as many voters view him as strongly favorable than strongly unfavorable,” stated Orlando.

The 26th U.S. congressional district is heavily Hispanic and both candidates are of Hispanic descent. Interviews were conducted online and by telephone sample were conducted in both English and Spanish.

Democrat Garcia leads among voters who identify themselves as white, 52-38 percent, but Republican Curbelo leads among the majority of voters who identify themselves as Hispanic, 52-37 percent.

“There’s still time for Garcia to make a move, but he must court independent voters. Although demographics and a gradual shift in Cuban political identity are making the district more Democratic, Garcia must also win a greater share of Republican votes, a hallmark of his successful 2012 campaign,” noted Orlando.

Underlying the tight race is the balanced political nature of the district. According to the poll, President Obama’s approval rating in the district is 48 percent, with 50 percent disapproving of the way the president is handling his job. Voters are divided about whether they want a candidate who will support or oppose the president in Congress, with 47 percent saying they prefer a candidate who will oppose President Obama and 45 percent saying the prefer a candidate who will support the president.

“As the incumbent, (Garcia) pulling only 42 percent of support is less desirable, but the bigger issue is that he’s running 8 percentage points behind Charlie Crist, his party’s nominee for governor,” said Orlando. “This is a district where Garcia carried 54 percent of the vote in 2012, and where President Obama beat Mitt Romney by 7 percentage points. While each district has its quirks, winning a district with this profile would help Republicans feel confident of increasing their advantage in the U.S. House of Representatives in November,” Orlando commented.

The national committees and affiliated groups are advertising heavily in the South Florida district. Ads on behalf of Republican Carlos Curbelo seem to be penetrating, with 63 percent of voters reporting they have seen, read, or heard about the investigation of Garcia’s former campaign manager, Jeffrey Garcia. Fewer voters – 46 percent – say they have seen, read, or heard about Curbelo’s work as a lobbyist on behalf of a foreign casino operator.

“Congressman Garcia appears to be weighed down by voter’s knowledge of his former campaign manager being investigated for fraud. This is ironic, as controversy surrounding Garcia’s opponent in 2012, former U.S. Congressman David Rivera, contributed to Garcia’s strong electoral showing,” concluded Orlando.

To view the Saint Leo University Polling Institute’s survey results about national politics and policy, including methodology, visit the polling institute’s website, http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.