In May we looked at whether Canova had a shot. It would be tough in a district that overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton, we thought — but if he capitalized on Sanders's endorsement and the political winds blew his way, he could be competitive.
That's worth revisiting now that some of the political winds do appear to be blowing his way. Wasserman Schultz has been forced to resign as head of the Democratic Party over leaked emails showing staffers working under her appearing to undermine Sanders's presidential campaign. It's a narrative that fits right into Canova's argument she is too entrenched in established Washington.
The Associated Press's Julie Bykowicz reports that privately, some Democrats are now worried Wasserman Schultz is such damaged goods she won't survive her Aug. 30 primary.
So let's look at whether Canova — with help from Sanders — can take down Wasserman Schultz while she's weak.
Who is Canova?
Canova is a former New York City lawyer who once worked as a legislative aide to the late senator Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.) and has ties to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Canova now teaches finance law at Florida's Nova Southeastern University. He officially began his campaign in January, arguing that Wasserman Schultz is a party insider beholden to special interests.
Little-known fact: The other primary challenger in this race was Doug Hughes, 62, a Florida mailman who pleaded guilty in November to charges related to flying his gyrocopter onto the U.S. Capitol grounds in April 2015 to protest the campaign finance system. He was sentenced last month to 120 days in jail and ended his campaign in April, throwing his support to Canova.
Does Canova have any traction?
Looks like it. In May, we said he needed to capitalize on Sanders's endorsement financially. Canova appears to be doing that: Wasserman Schultz has raised $3 million since June, Canova has raised more than $2 million. Wasserman Schultz still has more money than him overall — during her time as head of the Democratic Party, she has had access to a massive Rolodex of donors — but $2 million is a strong showing for an otherwise little-known primary challenger.
Canova's campaign also has national support from various factions of the party's progressive wing, including the Progressive Democrats of America.
And since Wasserman Schultz resigned Sunday, Canova's campaign said it has raised more than $100,000.
What is he basing his campaign on?
In a sentence: Wasserman Schultz has forsaken the progressive wing of the party and her own constituents. Canova is trying to capitalize on what political observers in Florida say is a growing concern that the party's leadership is dated and out of touch.
"People here on the ground — I hear left and right, you name it — are just dissatisfied that she's not responsive, she takes people for granted," Canova told The Hill after he launched his campaign in January. "And it's becoming evident in the way she votes on an awful lot of issues."
He's fundamentally to the left of Wasserman Schultz on free trade (he opposes it), drug policy (he wants to legalize marijuana) and national security (wants to get out of regime change politics).
He also knocks Wasserman Schultz for raising and taking money from super PACs and special interests. "She is the quintessential corporate machine politician," he told Glenn Greenwald in January.
Is that resonating among voters?
Canova argues that he has the district's grass-roots support. His campaign announced in June that it has received more than 116,000 individual contributions at an average $17.16 each. But according to a Fix analysis of the contributions available from the first three months of the year, 4 percent of them came from Florida.
(Canova's campaign isn't required to report the identity of donors giving below $200, so it's impossible to tell whether his fundraising in the state and in the district itself has picked up.)
And that's something to consider, because money from outside the district doesn't automatically translate to votes inside the district.
The bottom line
Canova is running what could probably be considered a decent progressive campaign, and he got a big boost with Sanders's endorsement and may get a bigger boost with Wasserman Schultz's problems.
But here's the rub: It might simply be the wrong district. Florida's 23rd congressional district is solidly Democratic, but it's not a hotbed of Sanders supporters. It's a minority-majority district that is more than a third Hispanic. It has more older women and men, who tend to vote in higher numbers and be fans of Clinton. Take how the district voted in the state's presidential primary in March:
Those numbers are consistent with the state's primary results overall, if a little friendlier for Clinton; Clinton won the state overall, 65 percent to 33 percent. And in 2008, the area also voted for Clinton over President Obama.
Is there a wildcard to consider?
Yup, and it's this: How much will drama at the presidential level filter down to Wasserman Schultz's race? While we can more easily grasp her controversy at the national level, we just don't know the extent of Florida Democrats' disaffection with her.
Wasserman Schultz has spent more than a decade serving the Miami area in Congress, and there's something to be said for the name recognition that comes with that.
"When you go into the heart of her congressional district and really all over South Florida, people know Debbie and she is loved,” Christian Ulvert, a Democratic campaign consultant who isn’t working for Wasserman Schultz but supports her, told the Miami Herald recently.. "I don’t see a world where Debbie’s longtime constituents don’t stand with her again. It is very hard to erase her two decades of elected services."
We'll find out whether Canova can do that on Aug. 30.