MIAMI — EMILY’s List, the largest Democratic group supporting women candidates, endorsed Donna Shalala in one of the party’s most coveted congressional seats, marking the first time it has three solid candidates in each of the Republican-held U.S. House seats in Miami.
The group’s support of Shalala — a former University of Miami president and longtime friend and appointee of the Clinton family — isn’t too much of a surprise because Shalala helped found EMILY’S List in 1985. Since then, the group says it has raised more than $500 million to ensure that more women who support abortion rights won office.
Behind the scenes, EMILY’s List has already played a big role in Shalala’s bid to replace outgoing Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Florida’s 27th Congressional District.
The organization’s president, Stephanie Schriock, helped pressure one of Shalala’s onetime Democratic opponent, former Judge Mary Barzee Flores, to leave the 27th primary and instead challenge Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) in Florida’s 25th Congressional District. In between, in Florida’s 26th Congressional District, EMILY’s List had already pledged its full support to Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in her campaign against incumbent Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.).
"We’re very excited by the strong slate of women candidates who we’re supporting in South Florida, including Donna Shalala, Mary Barzee Flores, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. These districts are critical in our fight to flip the House — and make no mistake, we plan to deliver a Democratic majority with newly elected women," said Christina Reynolds, vice president of communications at EMILY’s List.
Of the three races, Democrats have their best shot at picking up Ros-Lehtinen’s seat, which Hillary Clinton won by nearly 20 points, marking President Donald Trump’s biggest loss in a GOP-held House seat. Trump’s second-biggest loss in a Republican-controlled congressional seat was by nearly 16 points, in Curbelo’s district. Trump won Diaz-Balart’s seat by about 2 points.
Unlike Barzee Flores and Mucarsel-Powell, Shalala still faces a crowded primary, although polls show her well in front with a double-digit lead over her lesser-known Democratic rivals. As the former president of UM, the past head of the Clinton Foundation and President Bill Clinton’s former Health and Human Services secretary, Shalala’s name ID is unmatched in the primary, where some of her rivals this week took to calling her “no show Shalala” after she skipped a Democratic forum because of a scheduling conflict.
But her campaign said she’s making sure to attend a forum schedule for Saturday.
The venue? The University of Miami’s Donna E. Shalala Student Center.