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New poll shows Democrat Shalala trailing GOP opponent in a district Trump lost badly

Alex Daugherty and David Smiley, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Donna Shalala may be in trouble.

Shalala, a Democrat running in a Florida district that President Donald Trump lost by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016, is trailing Republican TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar by 2 percentage points in a Mason Dixon-Telemundo 51 poll. The independent poll's margin of error was 4 percentage points and included a pro-Trump nonparty candidate who could siphon votes from Salazar.

Salazar's unique background as a journalist in a party dominated by Trump and her appeal with older, Spanish-speaking voters has enabled the GOP to remain competitive. Shalala, one of the most experienced first-time congressional candidates, won a competitive Democratic primary by less than 5 percentage points and has faced criticism from liberal Democrats and Republicans alike for her tenure leading the University of Miami, when campus janitors went on a hunger strike over low wages and the school acquired Cedars Medical Center.

"The numbers look good, they're great," Salazar campaign manager Jose Luis Castillo said. "She's focused on job creation, health care, the environment and education. These numbers really reflect that her message, her ideas and vision are continuing to resonate throughout with voters in District 27."

The poll of 625 registered likely voters was conducted from Oct. 1 to Oct. 6, before Shalala began airing a TV ad that attempts to tie Salazar to Trump. Forty-three percent of respondents approve of Trump while 46 percent disapprove, according to the poll, while Salazar has a net favorable rating of 22 percentage points and Shalala has a net favorability rating of 4 points, though more voters recognize her than Salazar. Forty-two percent of voters support Shalala while 44 percent support Salazar, with 13 percent undecided.

"In our view, the Mason-Dixon poll is an outlier," Shalala spokesperson Mike Hernandez said. "It does not match our internal polls both in terms of what the electorate will be or voter intention."

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Shalala's campaign noted that Trump's approval ratings in the district in the poll are much higher than expected and that a 2012 Mason Dixon poll sponsored by the Miami Herald showed Barack Obama winning Miami-Dade by 9 points when he ended up winning the county by 24 points.

"It's difficult for our campaign to accept that this is the only congressional district in the country that Trump is becoming dramatically more popular," Hernandez said.

No-party candidate Mayra Joli received just 1 percent in the poll, noteworthy because she's positioned herself as the pro-Trump candidate in a race where the Republican candidate is trying to cast herself as independent from the president.

As evidence increases that the race is tightening -- and that Shalala is the one behind -- the Democrat's campaign has sought to frame the contest as one of qualifications; with their take being that Shalala has more.

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