MIAMI -- Donna Shalala, the former University of Miami president and Health and Human Services secretary, is officially running as a Democrat to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, according to Federal Election Commission paperwork filed Monday.
Shalala, 77, has never run for elected office, but her presence shakes up a crowded Democratic primary in a district that includes most of Miami Beach, downtown Miami and coastal Miami-Dade County. The district favors Democrats, as Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by 19.7 percentage points there in 2016.
Shalala did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night.
Fernand Amandi, a pollster and political consultant who has been advising Shalala as she contemplated her candidacy, said she planned to speak later in the week.
"She will declare her intentions officially on what she plans on doing Wednesday morning," Amandi said.
Shalala had been toying with a bid for just over a month, conducting internal polling with Bendixen & Amandi International to gauge public opinion for a potential run. A poll conducted in late January showed her far ahead of the Democratic field.
Shalala has taught a University of Miami political science class of about 200 students since stepping down last April as president of the Clinton Foundation. Her 14 years as University of Miami president have been widely hailed as a resounding success, but also include an episode where a university chaplain called her an "enemy of the working poor" during a nationally watched hunger strike by UM janitors seeking to unionize.
At least two candidates already in the race, former judge Mary Barzee Floes and Miami Beach commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, have attacked Shalala's record in recent weeks even before her bid was made official. Four other candidates, state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, state Rep. David Richardson, former Miami Herald reporter and Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman and Miami Commissioner Ken Russell have each raised more than six figures so far, meaning Shalala could have trouble courting donors who have already committed to other candidates.
If Shalala were to win the Democratic primary and general election, she would become one of the oldest first-time members of Congress in U.S. history.
(Smiley reports for the Miami Herald. Daugherty reported from Washington, Smiley from Miami.)
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