In the contest for State House District 116, the lesser financed, lesser known, lesser backed candidate not only won, but won with a 10-point spread.

And Republican Daniel Anthony Perez, a nobody from nowhere running for his first time, can basically celebrate becoming an elected today because everybody knows that whoever won this primary will win the general against that poser “Democrat” that the party propped up (more on that again later).

Perez got 55% to Jose Mallea‘s 45%, despite the latter being an establishment darling with a little more money and ties to Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush, both of whom he worked for as an aide, in the race to replace Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz, who resigned from the House to run for the Senate and won his own GOP primary Tuesday. Both Bush and former House Speaker Will Weatherford endorsed him, but not Marco, even though Mallea maybe tried to make it look like the one-time presidential hopeful backed him in one of his mailers.

How did Perez — who was endorsed by State Rep. Carlos Trujillo — pull ahead? By working harder, he said.

Read related story: Cuba engagement photos become issue in GOP 116 primary

“We won this election by knocking on more than 7,000 doors,” Perez wrote to Ladra in a text message late Tuesday. “My family and friends were a huge part. Every day for four months. this election came down to personal relationships with residents of District 116.”

It proably wasn’t by spending more money, because they were both about equal. According to the campaign reports filed this month, Perez had raised $168,000 — about half of it in the last six weeks — to Mallea’s $245,000, which includes a last minute loan to himself of $24,000. Of course, Perez had help from the Conservatives for Truth political action committee (connected to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and future Speaker Jose Oliva) that spent at least $40,000 on mailers attacking Mallea, who was also an aide to former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, a high profile Democrat, about tax increases during his tenure at the city.

And I don’t think it was the Cuba thing.

Mallea blasted Perez, and rightfully so, in mail and on video for having gone to Havana for an engagement album photo shoot with his fiancee. Perez said it was to visit a sick uncle and Ladra doesn’t know if she believes him. But it didn’t matter anyway. That kind of attack is not going to resonate with voters when everyone knows someone who goes to Cuba or even has sent medicine and clothing there for relatives. It’s just not as taboo anymore. And Mallea — who we later learned had Cuba ties of his own through a friend that’s a Castro apologist — counted far too much on outrage that never materialized.

Maybe, however, it was the Cuban thing. You don’t have to like it, and Ladra does not, but the whisper campaign that Mallea was not 100% Cuban (his mother is Ecuadorian) works with some older Cuban-American voters. And there are some 80,000 or so of them in this district. It works especially well when paired with his Castro apologist friend versus a cute cubanito named Danny Perez. It wasn’t pretty, but Mallea opened the door. Perez might not have said he was the only real Cuban in the race if Mallea had not attacked his engagement photos and called them a betrayal to the Cuban people.

Read related story: Democrat recruit for House 116 was a Republican yesterday

Or maybe it was the Pepi Diaz coat tails thing. Both Perez and Diaz share some political consultants (Steve Marin and David “Dis” Custin) and many lawns in the district boast the same yard signs.

Mallea will live and learn from this and run again, mark Ladra’s words. We have not seen the last of him.

But, for now, we fully expect Mallea to back Perez, not that he needs it against Gabriela Mayaudon (right), a Broward woman who wants to be elected in Venezuela (more on that later) and wasn’t registered to vote when the Democratic Party first recruited her to run for this seat.

Again, Perez won not just the primary Tuesday, but the general as well. Congratulations State Representative.

Now, about open primaries…

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Campaign video attacks candidate for Havana trip

Travel to Cuba is often a campaign issue in Miami-Dade races whether they are congressional or state or local. But that it would become fodder in a Republican 305 primary is something new.

And that the perceived front runner in the special House 116 race is using it to attack a relative nobody in video is somewhat interesting. Is the underdog doing better than anyone thought?

Daniel Anthony Perez is running for the GOP nomination in the special election for the seat vacated by former State Rep. Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz, who is running for Senate to replace Frank Artiles, who resigned after he was caught making sexist and racist remarks to and about his colleagues.

Suarez also traveled to Cuba earlier this year with his fiancée for a photo shoot to memorialize their engagement, as disclosed by the Miami Herald earlier this week. While he says it was a family trip to see his fiancée’s elderly uncle to take him food and medicine, two photogaphers also took the trip and he and his fiancée posed in several different outfits and with props at several different locations for their engagement album. The photographers posted on their page, as the Herald reported, that the photoshoot took four days. 

That could certainly hurt him with high-performing Cuban-American elderly voters in a low-turnout July election. And that is why candidate Jose Mallea, who worked on Sen. Marco Rubio‘s campaign, is using the story that his people likely planted with the Miami Herald to attack Suarez in a Spanish web video that says we can’t trust him.

Mirenlo! Es Daniel Perez! Dice que es Republicano,” says the voiceover that sounds like a wellknown former radio man at Univision radio.

“Look at him. It’s Daniel Perez. He says he is Republican, running for the legislature. But here we see him having a good time in Cuba taking his engagement photos. Because Daniel Perez is enjoying the ties created by Obama with the Castros permitting travel that feeds the dictatorship, while the ladies in white are beaten, while dissidents are oppressed, while the exile yearns. Daniel Perez. We cannot trust him.”

Ladra can already see the mailers that are coming next — right before the absentee ballots drop in about a month.

Now, let’s be clear here. Ladra is not against travel to Cuba, perse. I myself have been to the island numerous times, as a journalist and also to visit family. But the video is dishonest because we don’t need the ridiculously relaxed Obama policy as Cuban Americans. We were allowed to visit Cuba for family reunification before the closer more normalized relations began. Clearly, it is one thing to go and take family food and medicine they can’t get there and quite another to go with a couple of photographers and a wardrobe — why not a stylist? — for a four-day photo shoot using the backdrop of a crumbling city where native-born photographers and other artists do not have freedom of expression to create whatever they want. And then to post the pictures on a pubic website celebrating couples’ engagements — as if you were Jay Z and Beyonce? Shake my head. It’s not illegal or even so wrong — at least he’s Cuban — if maybe a little impulsive. It’s just kinda dumb for someone who wants to run for office locally as a Republican.

Still, travel to Cuba may not be the kiss of death it used to be. How many of the Cuban voters in Westchester know someone who has traveled to Cuba and taken medicine or other items to their family members? How many of them have family members or friends who have gone to Cuba to see relatives and taken selfies by La Catedral in Habana Vieja? Lots. Enough to perhaps make a difference in an election? We’ll see.

Perhaps it depends on how well Perez can cast Mallea as a carpetbagger who is riding his successor’s coattails. 

“Mr. Mallea has shown his true colors as a deceiving liar,” Perez told Ladra late Friday, hours after the video was posted. “I have never supported Obama’s travel policy.

“As the only Cuban American in this race, I take issue with Mr. Mallea’s exploitation of the suffering of the Cuban people for his political gain. What Mallea should be explaining to the voters of District 116 is his political opportunistic interest in a district that he has not lived or been registered to vote in,” Perez said, calling his oponent “a desperate man taking desperate measures.

“The residents of District 116 have been fortunate to have been represented by one of their own, someone who grew up in our district and understands what matters to us. I aim to continue that legacy, as I have lived in the heart of Westchester since I was 6 years old,” Perez said.

And why does the trip have anything to do with how he would advocate for us in Tallahassee? How does this matter in a race that is about jobs and education and heathcare and transportation funds and workforce housing and tolls?

Jose Mallea, left, and Daniel Perez, right.

The bigger question is why does Mallea, who has more money and the endorsements of Diaz, Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush, need to go on the attack against this first-time candidate with zero name recognition? Why is the perceived front runner in the race giving Perez the time of day with a slick video that uses dramatic clips of activists being beaten and photos of Obama and Raul Castro and a lot of red?

Could it be that Mallea has seen the signs? No, literally, the Perez yard signs that are already popping up here and there on residential blocks from 87th Avenue to the Turnpike?

Ladra has a theory that Mallea has polled — we are certain he has a soft money PAC account somewhere, what with all his connections and endorsments — and found that he is not doing as well as he thought. Or that Perez, a good-looking, well-spoken, 29-year-old with roots in the district, is doing better than he expected.


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The Senate seat in District 40 isn’t the only special election seat on the summer ballot. Voters in House District 116 will also pick a replacement for State Rep. Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz, who resigned last seek to run for Senate to replace Frank Artiles, his BFF and roommate, who resigned last month after a racist and sexist tirade about and with colleagues.

On the Republican side, Jose Mallea and Daniel Anthony Perez both started raising money in March. Perez has a respectable $49,790. Mallea, a onetime Marco Rubio campaign worker, raised more than that in the first month and $89,560 so far. And it looks like he has already hit the street, sharing photos of last Saturday’s canvassing on Facebook.

But don’t think it’s a given Republican district, because it’s not. It’s certainly a little more red than the Senate Distict, but the blue team could still gain a seat. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won the district in November with just over 51 percent of the vote. What’s more, Donald Trump only got 45 percent. And there’s no Gary Johnson in this race. Not yet anyway.

On Monday, Ross Hancock electronically filed to run for the Democrat spot in the race. “There being no sign that the Dems can scramble anyone for it, I want to stand up for it,” he told Ladra, who hopes he uses the same signs with the Everglades in it.

But he might not be the only one. This has to be an attractive seat for the Dems, who might want to back someone in the special election now that their pick for Senate 40, State Rep. Daisy Baez, bowed out last week after getting caught living outside her district. Ladra can’t imagine that they wouldn’t find someone — or back Hancock.

Speaking of residency, Hancock ran in District 115 last August and in 114 twice. So has he moved?

There is still time. The governor set the election for the same date as the senate race, July 26. But Secretary of State Ken Detzner hasn’t set the qualifying dates for 116 yet. The deadline for the senate race is Tuesday, so it might be by the end of next week.

But it’s not like the Democrats have a fat bench. Not here anyway. The Dems can’t go west of Miami. Notice how many they have waiting in the wings to run to replace Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring next year, and they have nobody yet to run against Congressman Carlos Curbelo.

Unless Annette Taddeo tries again after losing the Senate 40 primary to Ana Rivas Logan. And that’s like having nobody.

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