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Lady of the House

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All of this has placed Wasserman Schultz in a sticky situation. No one would question her desire to ensure that Floridians have a voice in the selection of the party's nominee for president. But her full-throated advocacy — particularly in the face of Clinton's original pledge not to campaign in Florida — has struck some as damaging to the party's chances of recapturing the White House.

"As Obama secures the nomination, the pressure is going to be on her to step up to the plate and work with the nominee," notes Joe Sudbay, a political consultant based in Washington, D.C., who is a frequent contributor to AMERICAblog.com.

For her part, Wasserman Schultz refuses to accept the prevailing math. Even as the media look ahead to an Obama/McCain matchup, she insists Clinton can and will prevail. And she sounds unconcerned about any political fallout. "I don't do things based on any supposed 'leadership track,' " she says. "I follow my heart. I stand up for what I believe in, and I believe in Hillary Clinton."

But if Obama did win? "I will be supportive of whomever the nominee will be and give him or her the full measure of my work ethic."

Her colleague, Rep. Robert Wexler, whose district spans portions of Broward and Palm Beach counties, is in the opposite position. As co-chair of Obama's Florida campaign, he stands to have closer ties to the White House if the Illinois senator wins in November. "It's wonderful to have a close relationship with the president when you're a member of Congress," says Eric Johnson, Wexler's chief of staff.

The general feeling among political observers is best summed up by another legislative aide, who asked not to be named: "Would her stock go up if Hillary were the nominee? Of course. But [Wasserman Schultz] works hard on the legislative side; she's been active and engaged in a whole slew of committees and has earned the trust of the party leadership." That means she'll remain a rising star after November, the aide says. Some have suggested that Wasserman Schultz might even enjoy a privileged role as the Obama campaign seeks to win the support of Clinton loyalists in a crucial swing state.

David Wasserman, of the Cook Political Report, says it's important to remember that presidential politics has little effect on the congressional pecking order. Wasserman Schultz still has a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee, and she's still helping lead the party's Red to Blue Program.


As co-chair of that ballyhooed program, Wasserman Schultz gets a national platform to display her campaigning and fundraising talents. These attributes served both her and the party well in 2006, when the congresswoman launched an offensive against Fort Lauderdale Rep. Clay Shaw, a Republican who had 26 years' tenure to Wasserman Schultz's two. After Shaw's defeat, Wasserman Schultz was cheered in liberal blogs for disregarding the gentleman's agreement that calls for lawmakers to abstain from getting involved in races too close to their home district.

Those same observers expected Wasserman Schultz to stage an encore performance in 2008, given that three long-held Republican congressional seats in Miami look vulnerable to upset. Who better to throw her support behind local Democrats than the feisty Red to Blue co-chair, who, after all, is running unopposed for reelection? But in early March, Wasserman Schultz declared that she would not be campaigning aggressively for the Democratic challengers.

A few hours after the Miami Herald wrote about Wasserman Schultz's decision, the liberal blogosphere was in uproar. One popular website, the Swing State Project, posted a headline that was typical of the tenor: "Wasserman Schultz wants Dem Challengers to lose." The blog's senior editor went on to note: "Hey Debbie, there are no recusals in politics. If you want to consider yourself a 'rising star' in the Democratic Party, don't think you can get away with this." Similar posts appeared on other liberal blogs, such as the Huffington Post and Daily Kos. Some readers demanded that the party remove Wasserman Schultz from the Red to Blue Program. Others went further, proposing that another democratic candidate be found to challenge her in 2010.

Wasserman Schultz had endured political blowback before, such as when she opposed impeaching President George W. Bush in 2007. But never on this scale. Within a week, the Washington Post and Herald had both reported on the blog reactions.

The contested seats belong to Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, his brother Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all of whom are revered by South Florida's Cuban American community for taking a hard line against the Castro regime in their native country. Wasserman Schultz joins those Republicans on the Congressional Cuba Caucus. Her own hard line toward Cuba is an exception to an otherwise liberal voting record. In public remarks, Wasserman Schultz has likened Cuban Americans' predicament to that of the Jewish Americans like herself. Both groups, she says, extol democratic values that put them at odds with extremists who revert to totalitarianism in the case of Castro's regime or terrorism in the case of Hamas.

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Thomas Francis

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