DWS, Canova square off in debate as primary approaches

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| POSTED ON: August 14, 2016

Political newcomer Tim Canova and veteran U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz differed on how best to achieve progressive goals and exchanged barbs over fundraising and Social Security during a long-awaited televised debate on Sunday morning.

The debate, which aired on Miami's CBS4, came about two weeks ahead of the Aug. 30 Democratic primary in the 23rd congressional district. In a strategy that seems to be paying off, Wasserman Schultz, a former Democratic National Committee chairwoman, is leaning on her long record while recruiting Washington heavy hitters — from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi — to help her retain her seat.

Meanwhile, Canova, a former Capitol Hill staffer and south Florida law professor, used the hour-long debate to whittle away at Wasserman Schultz’s progressive bonafides claiming that throughout her career she’s raised “millions of dollars” from wealthy donors, Wall Street institutions and large corporations.

“I think when she was first elected many years ago to the state house she was much more progressive and liberal,” Canova said. “Now she’s just liberal and not as progressive.”

Canova has ridden a wave of support, financial and otherwise, from discontented voters, thanks largely to the endorsement of former presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. As recently as last week Sanders asked his legions to donate to Canova’s campaign.

Wasserman Schultz finished out the quarter ending June 30 with $1.6 million cash on hand after receiving almost $1.3 million in net contributions and spending about $545,000. Canova ended the quarter with slightly less than $1 million in the bank after receiving more than $1.7 million in net contributions and spending almost $1.2 million.

Wasserman Schultz spend a good chunk of the debate trying to explain away the scandal that forced her to resign as DNC chair after emails released by WikiLeaks showed top party officials trading messages on how to undermine Sanders’ campaign. She also disputed Canova’s accusation that she improperly used party resources to monitor his own campaign.

“The issues that will decide who it is that will best represent [voters] focus on who do they know that will continue to go to bat for them on creating jobs, on protecting Social Security, on making sure there’s a strong voice standing up for Israel,” Wasserman Schultz said.

She then cited her career and life in south Florida while lambasting Canova’s shorter tenure in the region and for re-registering in the Democratic Party after two years as an independent.

They appeared to agree on a number of issues, including raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, supporting a two-state solution in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, expanding Social Security benefits, and supporting abortion rights. The split came over how to achieve these goals, with Wasserman Schultz again leaning on her record while pointing to Canova’s lack thereof. “He didn’t have an answer because he’s not quite sure,” Wasserman Schultz said after host Jim DeFede asked Canova how he would shepherd a $15 wage measure.

On Israel, Wasserman Schultz criticized a position on Canova’s campaign website that said finding a solution would require Israel and the Palestinians to make difficult compromises. And while Canova has talked about disarming the Middle East, which he clarified as specifically meaning Iran and Saudi Arabia, Wasserman Schultz said he’s been “mealy-mouthed” on Mideast issues and is suggesting policies that could threaten Israel’s existence.

Canova struck back, saying “she can talk about reaching over the aisle, but under her leadership at the DNC Democrats have had historic losses.” He also accused her of playing politics with pending Social Security legislation, arguing she only recently co-sponsored a handful of House bills seeking to increase benefits for the elderly and disabled.

“I’ve been fighting on the front lines of Republican attempts to privatize Social Security,” Wasserman Schultz retorted. “I stood in the breach over and over with my vote and my voice.”

Wasserman Schultz has revved up her campaign recently as Canova, largely thanks to Sanders and his supporters, became a growing threat. Top Democrats took note after Canova announced in May that he’d raised $1 million following Sanders’ endorsement and fundraising help.

Prior to Sunday’s meeting Canova had chided Wasserman Schultz for failing to debate him. Yet the script flipped last week after she agreed to the debate. Canova balked, turning the tables again by saying a planned half-hour show would yield only 15 minutes of debate. Both agreed to meet after the show was extended to an hour.

As the primary approaches, Canova is facing his own mounting challenges. A poll conducted last month for his campaign showed him trailing by eight points. A separate poll released by a super PAC supporting Wasserman Schultz had her up 33 points.

And the Sanders campaign’s top political and media consultants, Washington-based Tad Devine, Mark Longabaugh, and Julian Mulvey, abruptly parted ways with the Canova campaign two weeks after signing on.

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden was in Miami earlier this month to lend his support to Wasserman Schultz, as was former Arizona congresswoman and shooting survivor Gabrielle Giffords. U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who led a sit-in in the House chamber over gun-control issues earlier this summer, also is expected to campaign with Wasserman Schultz ahead of the primary.

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