“I’m looking for Alex,” she told a white-haired man who answered the door. “Is he around?”
“Uh, no. He’ll be back tomorrow, though,” the man replied, refusing to say where Rodriguez was, how to reach him, or why a man with no history in politics — a registered Republican until a few months ago — had become an unaffiliated candidate for Florida’s 37th State Senate District.
Days later, Milberg discovered the man at the door had been lying. He was, in fact, Rodriguez, whose more than 6,000 votes may have tipped the election away from a Democratic incumbent in Miami with the same last name.
A close race was always expected between state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez (D) and Ileana Garcia (R), a well-funded Republican challenger who had worked for President Trump’s campaign and previously founded the group Latinas for Trump.
But as a recount last week confirmed Garcia’s victory by the thinnest of margins — 34 votes — the Democratic incumbent has raised alarms that Alex Rodriguez ran for just one reason: to confuse voters and siphon off ballots meant for José Javier Rodríguez.
“Democracy requires transparency,” José Javier Rodríguez said in a concession video last week. “In order to achieve that, I believe this election requires a full investigation so that those who may have violated the law are held to account and so that such tactics are not used in future elections.”
Prosecutors are now looking into Alex Rodriguez, the Miami Herald reported, and he has since retained a lawyer. That attorney, William Barzee, declined to comment in a text message to The Washington Post.
The presence of “shadow candidates” who attempt to spoil an election is no foreign concept in Florida. In 2013, a former independent candidate for U.S. Congress was convicted of four counts of campaign finance violations after allegations that he ran only to weaken a Democratic challenger.
Yet no past races appear to have been quite as razor-thin as the one between Garcia and José Javier Rodríguez, for a swing district in Miami-Dade County that had been closely targeted by national Democrats.
In South Florida, where Trump saw unexpectedly large gains after painting Democrats as socialists, Garcia, a former deputy press secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, appeared to court Cuban, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan voters with similar tactics.
“Do we defund the police and walk away from American values? Do we choose socialism and chaos out of fear?” she asked in one campaign ad, vowing to ensure that “criminals can’t take what hard-working families have earned.”
Rodríguez, a lawyer and first-term senator who had previously served in the Florida House, pitched his existing work on climate-change issues and labor.
Alex Rodriguez, meanwhile, appeared to have no campaign at all. He did not attend candidate forums, had no website, and received only a $2,000 loan from himself, the Herald reported. When WPLG sought candidate headshots to use on TV, he failed to return the station’s calls.
Yet he ran for office because “it’s always something I wanted to do,” he told the Herald.
Rodriguez is among the 10 most popular surnames in the United States, and in many parts of heavily Latino South Florida, it might as well replace top-ranked Smith. Garcia has also pointed out that an unaffiliated candidate also ran in José Javier Rodríguez’s close 2016 race.
“There was no outrage at the time,” Garcia told the news site Florida Politics. “What’s the difference now? The difference is he lost. I will not allow this temper tantrum to distract from the important work ahead.”
Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson (R) and the Florida GOP’s senate campaign arm both denied involvement in Alex Rodriguez’s campaign or candidacy in a statement to the Herald. But some Florida Democrats say the details of Alex Rodriguez’s candidacy raise questions.
Under oath, Rodriguez listed his address on campaign documents as being in Palmetto Bay, Fla., according to WLTV, even though the station reported that he had in fact been living in a rented house in Boca Raton, more than 60 miles and several state Senate districts away.
As WPLG reported, Rodriguez’s candidacy also bears striking similarities to that of Celso D. Alfonso, another no-party Florida state Senate candidate.
Both men were registered as Republicans in 2018, and both qualified for this year’s election on the same day, with hand-delivered checks time-stamped within minutes of one another, according to the Herald. Their listed email addresses are nearly identical, too.
Reached by WPLG at his house, Alfonso said that he decided to run at 81 years old to pursue a childhood dream of public service. Asked about his campaign fliers — which were sent out by the same mysterious PAC — Alfonso said he had no such ads.
Minutes later, he changed his story.