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Swapping One Diaz-Balart for Another

Political tumblers within the tightly knit Miami Republican machine began to trip Thursday as Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart announced he would not seek re-election to the congressional seat he has held since 1992.

Within hours, a series of announcements, predictions, salutations and speculations surfaced as the dominoes began to fall affecting both state and congressional races.

Speaking to supporters in Miami, Diaz-Balart made official what had been speculated for more than a year. After nine terms in the U.S. Congress, the eldest member of a South Florida political dynasty was calling it quits.

“These 24 years in public office, six in the Florida Legislature and 18 in Congress, have constituted an extraordinary honor for me, and from the bottom of my heart I thank this community for having allowed me the privilege of fighting for the most noble of causes,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement released at a press conference at Florida International University.

Within the hour, younger brother and fellow Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart announced he would switch districts and run for his brother’s seat in the more Republican-dominated district. In 2008, Mario Diaz-Balart defeated Democrat Joe Garcia with 53 percent of the vote.

“As the only Broward native in the U.S. House of Representatives, I look forward to the opportunity of representing Broward’s residents,” the younger Diaz-Balart said. “My decision will open a path for a number of young leaders with proven track records and distinguished service within District 25 to move up and continue serving our community.”

The younger Diaz-Balart’s announcement triggered other responses from potential candidates interested in his seat and the changing political landscape that will undoubtedly ensue.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he expects Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, to enter the race to fill the District 25 Congressional seat. Meanwhile Rivera told the News Service is he “seriously considering” making that decision but said a definitive answer was premature. He currently is running for a state Senate seat.

Rivera did stress that his state House district covers a lot of the same territory as Mario Diaz-Balart’s congressional district including a swath of Southwest Florida in Collier County.

“In the coming weeks I will be consulting with family and supporters regarding opportunities to continue my public service either in the Florida Senate or the U.S. Congress,” Rivera said in a statement. “My decision will be based on where I can best serve the interests of our community.”

Rivera had been the top fundraiser among all state Senate candidates in his race against fellow Republican Rep. Anitere Flores for a seat now held by Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami. Rivera has raised more than $1 million.

Given Rivera’s expected decision to enter the congressional fray, Negron said Flores becomes the front runner in that Republican-dominated district.

“I’ve supported Anitere and look forward to the upcoming race,” Negron said.

Rivera may not be the only Republican seeking the seat, however. Shortly after Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s retirement announcement, state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami said he would consider running for the post.

"I have had the honor and privilege of serving my community as a state senator and I am seriously considering the opportunity to continue to fight for the people of Florida on a national level in the United State Congress,” he said in a statement. “I will make my final decision soon after thoughtful and deliberate consideration.”

Meanwhile, the departure of Lincoln Diaz-Balart after 18 years in Congress was met with adulation from colleagues who sung his praises and wished him well.

“Florida is losing one of its strongest voices in Washington. For almost two decades, Lincoln has been an irreplaceable champion of democracy,” U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, said in a statement. “He has represented the people of South Florida with integrity and effectiveness.”

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