Democrats' pick for Congress in Florida hopes second-time run is a charm

By Al Kamen
Friday, April 16, 2010

Attention, job-seekers! The Energy Department is looking for someone to direct the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity. (It's a Senate-confirmed job, so double-check the nanny, flush the weed, be nice to your spouse and pay your taxes.) The director, former Miami-Dade County Democratic Party chairman Joe Garcia, quit Tuesday and is back in Florida running for Congress.

Garcia sought the same seat in 2008, losing by six points to the longtime incumbent, anti-Castro Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R). Diaz-Balart announced in February that he was leaving to run instead in a neighboring district for a seat long held by Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R), his brother.

The Dems recruited Garcia to try again in the newly open seat, seeing it as a possible pickup. They consider it a more favorable fundraising terrain without an incumbent, and the district has been trending Democratic. While the GOP had a voter registration advantage of more than 2,000 in 2008, the Dems have about an 800-vote advantage now.

The district is one-third Cuban American, and Garcia, who once headed the anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation, did well, Democratic strategists said, picking up about 38 percent of the Cuban American vote against the formidable Diaz-Balart. About 30 percent of the voters are strongly Democratic Hispanics -- Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Salvadorans -- and 10 percent are African American.

Republican state legislator David Rivera has already entered the race, and other GOP challengers are reported to be taking a close look at it. After all, despite the changed demographics and Garcia's decent showing in 2008, most prognosticators predict a very tough November for the Democrats in general.

More full than not

Speaking of federal job openings, the Obama administration, with a hefty boost from 15 recess appointments in late March, has now filled more than 70 percent of the 522 Senate-confirmable jobs being tracked by The Washington Post's Head Count.

In addition, the administration has announced or formally nominated candidates to fill an additional 10 percent of the vacancies. Fifteen months into the administration, there are, to be sure, a number of extremely important jobs still without so much as a nominee, such as someone to head the Transportation Security Administration or to run the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. Still, nobody's home alone.

Now the sorest loser

The top aide to Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama criticized Wednesday's column for calling Hatoyama the "biggest loser" at the nuclear summit meeting in Washington, the Agence France-Presse news service reported Thursday. "It seems somewhat impolite as an expression addressing the top leader of a country," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano told reporters at a briefing. Guilty as charged.

Our item, played big in Japan, said that, unlike the winners, who got one-on-one meetings with President Obama, Hatoyama was turned down for such a meeting. Instead, he got a brief chat during Monday night's "working dinner" with the attendees. The focus reportedly was the controversial U.S. base relocation in Okinawa.

Hirano said Japan was satisfied with the meeting, even though it was "unofficial" and "lasted just 10 minutes." Actually, with translating English to Japanese and back again, we figure that amounts to about a five-minute tête-à-tête.

"The length of time does not matter," Hirano said, adding that there was an "important exchange of views" and that "it was a meaningful opportunity."

Sure. Besides, while China's Hu Jintao got 90 minutes with Obama, they probably just talked about meaningless stuff like the White Sox's chances this year.

What goes up . . .

Americans are paying lower taxes this year, even with increases passed by many states to balance their budgets, the Associated Press reported Thursday, noting that Congress cut individuals' federal taxes for this year by about $173 billion shortly after President Obama took office. That was far more than state tax increases of $28.6 billion. But taxes are soon headed up, the AP said.

The vaunted Obama message machine, rather than ballyhoo the lower tax bite, tried to focus public opinion on -- and head off public fury about, no doubt -- the hot-button issue of NASA's future under Obama. Perhaps they'll focus on tax matters next April 15, when taxes almost surely will rise, so they can take credit for the increases.

From Mass. to Mass. Ave.

Don't be surprised if Jon Kingsdale, the founding executive director of the Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector, shows up in Washington soon, our colleague Alec MacGillis reports. The connector was the agency at the heart of the state's 2006 universal-health-care law that served as the model for President Obama's health-care reform legislation. Kingsdale has been widely credited with leading the implementation of the state law -- getting people to comply with the mandate to obtain insurance and setting up the connector, a marketplace where people without employer coverage can buy insurance, much like the exchanges that will be created under the new federal law.

Kingsdale announced Thursday that he is resigning -- with a hint that he would like to help implement the national legislation. "In my next venture," he said in his resignation letter, "I hope to play some role in national healthcare reform and to continue working with each of you."

Maybe a nice rowhouse on the Hill?

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