In tight Florida House race, it comes down to foreign policy and even a former Colombian president

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MIAMI — With races for governor and the U.S. Senate getting most of the national attention in Florida before the midterm elections next week, the closest race in the state may be that of a Democratic state senator who is trying to unseat a Republican House incumbent.

If state Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Colombian American, does beat Rep. María Elvira Salazar, who is Cuban American, it could give Democrats hope of doing well elsewhere on the ballot, especially with the state's top spots expected to remain in Republican hands.

The GOP, especially in South Florida, is trying to portray Democrats as "socialists" and soft on foreign policy. Taddeo, a Democrat, is touting her hard-line stance against leftist governments. One of her mailers states, “I escaped Marxist terrorists funded by the Cuban regime in Colombia,” referring to her father's kidnapping and eventual release by Colombian leftist rebels.

Florida’s 27th Congressional District is over 70% Hispanic and was redrawn in a way that makes it safer for Republicans.

Salazar and Taddeo have similar hard-line foreign positions against the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. In her first term in Congress, Salazar has made social media videos denouncing those governments and has criticized some of President Joe Biden's policies in the region. Taddeo, according to a spokesperson, feels current foreign policy toward Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua cannot change until there are democratic transitions in those countries.

Taddeo criticized the Biden administration for removing the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a former Marxist rebel group, from the list of foreign terrorist organizations after historic peace negotiations.

A former Colombian president takes center stage

With a large number of Colombians in the district who overwhelmingly oppose left-wing politicians, the country's center-right ex-president has become a focal point for both the Taddeo and Salazar campaigns. There are about 275,000 Colombian eligible voters in Florida and a significant number live in the district. While Colombians lean Republican, some find it appealing to vote for someone from their home country, regardless of party. Taddeo, who was born in Colombia, says she would be the first Jewish Latina in Congress.

The two candidates recently left many puzzled when they tweeted that former Colombian President Iván Duque seemingly supports both of them.

But there’s a history of conservative Colombian politicians endorsing Republican candidates in the U.S., something Democrats have strongly criticized.

The first tweet came from Taddeo with a video of Duque speaking at an event over summer. Taddeo quoted some of what he said: “I always feel so proud of how Colombian Americans have done so much in U.S. politics & I know we’re gonna get pretty soon to Capitol Hill.”

She added at the bottom. “On November 8 I’ll be the first Colombian elected to Congress.”

Then Salazar tweeted a picture of her and Duque shaking hands and wrote in Spanish, “Thank you President @IvanDuque for your support!”

Taddeo again tweeted a different video of Duque speaking at another event saying, “We really look forward to seeing more Colombian Americans pretty soon getting into Capitol Hill.”

The tweets raised eyebrows after a backlash by Democrats in 2020 when two conservative Colombian senators, from Duque’s party, made social media videos endorsing then-President Donald Trump. Juan David Vélez, a former congressman in Colombia who represented Colombians living abroad until recently and is a U.S. citizen, endorsed Salazar in 2020 while he was in office and is supporting her now as well.

Former right-wing President Alvaro Uribe also endorsed Trump and Salazar in 2020.

The current president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, a leftist ex-guerrilla member, took heat as well when, as a senator in 2020, he stated in an interview that if he could, he would vote for Joe Biden. That prompted Biden’s current senior director for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council to reply in a tweet in Spanish to mind his own business, "because no one here is interested in your opinion.”

U.S. Reps. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., and Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., who is of Colombian descent, criticized the endorsements, saying Colombian politicians shouldn’t take sides in U.S. elections.

In an interview with NBC News, Taddeo said that after an ad released by a conservative group called her a “Petrista" — a follower of Petro — she reached out to her “friend” Duque and had a conversation about what was happening.

“The reason why I called him is because I wanted to put out a video that I had of his last visit as president to Miami when I was already in the race,” said Taddeo, adding there were two events where he spoke about her.

Taddeo said she asked Duque for permission to use the video and did not ask him for an endorsement because that would be “inappropriate.”

She said Duque replied, “Of course Anette, I meant what I said. I think it would be great to have a Colombian American in Congress and please feel free to post it.”

Salazar’s office did not respond to an interview request.

For three decades, the district was held by a Republican and the first Latina elected to Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Democrat Donna Shalala won in 2018 and two years later it flipped back to Republicans when Salazar, a former journalist, won.

Republicans made big gains in Florida in 2020 and their momentum has continued. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis could become the first Republican governor in 20 years to win Miami-Dade County, which is partly in the 27th District.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report has the district categorized as “lean Republican.”

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