Tim Canova hopes to topple Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Democratic primary

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| POSTED ON: August 16, 2016

South Florida Democrats who didn't get enough of the 14-month presidential primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are getting a chance to reprise the battle in a high-profile local contest.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is the fill-in for Clinton — a well known, long time leader in the Democratic Party, favored by the party establishment and major donors.

Tim Canova plays the role of Sanders. He's a little known outsider, never before active in Democratic politics, who is energizing legions of small campaign contributors from around the country.

Canova is challenging Wasserman Schultz's bid for the Democratic nomination for a seventh term in the U.S. House representing parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Clinton won the Democratic presidential nomination; voters in the 23rd Congressional District will decide on Aug. 30 if Canova or Wasserman Schultz gets the nomination to run for Congress.

Canova is running against Wasserman Schultz much the way Sanders ran against Clinton. He says the incumbent is too beholden to the desires of big corporate campaign contributors to represent the interests of average people. Sanders said the same thing about Clinton when they were foes; he's since endorsed her.

Canova said Wasserman Schultz has lost some of her progressive ideals during her 25 years in public office. Wasserman Schultz rejects the underpinnings of Canova's assessment and said she's not afraid of calling herself a liberal. Like Clinton, who touted her ability to get things done, Wasserman Schultz is running as an experienced hand who has built relationships in Washington that allow her to pass legislation even in the hyper-partisan capital and secure money for priorities important to Florida.

At least one part of Canova's assessment is correct: Wasserman Schultz is a political insider and preferred candidate of the Democratic Party establishment and many of its key constituency groups. President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus all support her re-election, along with more than 50 labor unions and the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus.

To demonstrate her support for Wasserman Schultz, Clinton visited the congresswoman's Davie campaign headquarters on Aug. 9. "I can't think of anyone who [more] deserves your support for re-election, starting with the primary on August 30th, than my friend Debbie," Clinton said. "Debbie has been a leader ... she has done a tremendous job in raising the importance of the issues that concern all of you, her constituents."

Canova has support from the most prominent outsider of 2016: Sanders. The unsuccessful presidential candidate has endorsed Canova and helped him raise money. In an Aug. 9 email to his political network, Sanders wrote that the contest "is very important for Our Revolution because if we can win this tough fight in Florida, it will send a clear message about the power of our grass roots movement that will send shockwaves through the political and media establishments."

Canova also has support form several labor unions, the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida and the groups Democracy for America and Progressive Democrats of America.

Canova has gone after Wasserman Schultz from the left, arguing the incumbent isn't sufficiently committed to increasing Social Security benefits, hasn't been willing to flout the interests of Big Sugar and push hard enough for Everglades restoration, and has been unwilling to tackle the predatory practices of payday lenders. Wasserman Schultz disputes those contentions.

Running in a district with a large Jewish population, both tout their ties to the religion and to Israel. Wasserman Schultz is the first Jewish congresswoman elected from Florida; Canova's step-father is Jewish.

Wasserman Schultz said Canova wouldn't be good for Israel, citing his calling on his website for demilitarization in the Middle East. He responded that he was referring to Saudi Arabia and Iran, not to Israel.

They also disagree on Obama's 2015 deal with Iran aimed at preventing that country form obtaining an nuclear weapon. Wasserman Schultz voted for the agreement, which she said was the most difficult and complex vote she's cast. Canova's position isn't clear. He said in July he has concerns about the agreement and didn't know how he would vote; in January he said he would have supported the agreement.

Canova opposes the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which he said would cost American jobs. Wasserman Schultz voted in support of legislation that created an expedited approval process for the trade deal, but said she is still evaluating the agreement herself and doesn't know how she'd vote.

Wasserman Schultz, who opposed the proposed 2014 amendment to the state Constitution to authorize medical marijuana in the state, hasn't spelled out her position on this year's version of the amendment. Canova supports legalizing medical marijuana.

They also differ on a significant environmental issue: Canova opposes oil fracking in Florida; Wasserman Schultz is OK with fracking as long as there is "significant" government regulation.

The candidates said they agree on many policy areas, including abortion rights and LGBT rights, equal pay for women, and opposition to easing the decades-long embargo against Cuba without significant concessions from that country. Both support a ban on the purchase of so-called assault weapons and support closing the so-called gun show loophole that allows some firearm purchasers to avoid background checks.

Echoing Sanders, Canova has also sharply criticized Wasserman Schultz for the way she ran the Democratic National Committee, which she served as national chairwoman from 2011 until last month. For months, the Sanders camp complained that the DNC under Wasserman Schultz had tilted the presidential nominating process toward Clinton, something she repeatedly denied.

When WikiLeaks published leaked Democratic Party emails in July showing some party staffers had been favoring Clinton, Wasserman Schultz resigned as party chairwoman — something that gave Canova a further fundraising boost and a bonanza of publicity.

The association with Sanders helped Canova raise enough money to be seen as a credible challenger, and enabled him to hire field canvassers and run advertising in the expensive Miami-Fort Lauderdale TV market, something few challengers can pull off if they're not independently wealthy.

Wasserman Schultz's association with Clinton could also be a plus with primary voters in the 23rd District, where 68.1 percent of Democrats voted for Clinton in the March 15 presidential primary — more than 64.4 percent of the vote she won statewide.

Two Republicans are running for their party's nomination in the 23rd District. The district is so Democratic that the winner of the Canova-Wasserman Schultz primary is virtually guaranteed to win the November election.

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