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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — In recent weeks Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo has been telling some Democrats in his district he would vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump if those were his two choices, according to those who have spoken to him.
In an interview Thursday with CBS4’s Jim DeFede, Curbelo refused to rule out voting for Clinton, saying instead he hopes that Trump will be stopped or there will be a third-party candidate he could support.
“I think both Donald Trump and Mrs. Clinton are flawed candidates, if you look at the polls the majority of Americans have negative views on both of them,” said Curbelo, who was first elected to the House in 2014. “So I am going to wait and see what happens on our side, but I have already said I will not support Mr. Trump, that is not a political decision that is a moral decision.”
As Trump moves closer to gaining the Republican nomination, some party officials are afraid he could cost them their current majorities in both the House and the Senate. House Republicans in swing districts are under increasing pressure to find a way to manage a Trump nomination and nowhere is that more evident than Curbelo’s 26th Congressional District.
In 2012 President Obama easily won the district, which stretches from Westchester to Key West. More recently it was redrawn in a manner that increases the likelihood a Democrat will win that seat. As a result, Curbelo is considered one of the most vulnerable members of the House up for re-election.
Curbelo has tried to present himself as a moderate Republican willing to work with Democrats. He was one of only two Republicans who stood and applauded the President during his State of the Union Address when the President spoke in support of gay rights and same-sex marriage. (Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was the other.) He has also sided with the White House on climate change.
Curbelo, however, still votes with his fellow Republicans on most issues, including measures to repeal Obamacare, opposing gun control, building the Keystone pipeline, and limiting a woman’s right to choose an abortion.
That effort to walk a narrow path without angering either Democrats or Republicans could be seen in his response to the President’s recent trip to Cuba – criticizing him one moment and then praising him the next.
“I was just disgusted to see the joint press conference where Raul Castro, a third world country dictator was lecturing our president on human rights,” Curbelo said. “But then there was the speech the next day where President Obama really did a good job of focusing on human rights and really pushing the envelope and being aggressive with the Cubans.”
He went on to add: “It was a mixed bag there were some wonderful moments on the trip and there were some tough moments to watch as well.”
Praising presidential diplomacy is one thing, suggesting he is open to voting for the oft vilified Hillary Clinton is something else. Yet according to Kim Romano, who is the executive director of a woman’s clinic in Key West, Curbelo went even further, telling her during a recent meeting that given the choice between Trump and Clinton he would vote for Clinton.
Romano, a self-described Democrat and Clinton supporter, was so excited by this admission she posted it immediately on her Facebook page along with a picture of her with Curbelo.
“I’m shocked as you are that I’m seen here with REPUBLICAN Congressman Carlos Curbelo,” she wrote on the Facebook post dated March 12. “I told him I disagreed with him on every single issue and then … he said he would vote for HILLARY if Trump was nominated!”
Shown the Facebook post, Curbelo said: “I told Kim, and Kim is a fantastic person and a good friend from Key West, is that a lot of Republicans, Republicans that I know would vote for Hillary Clinton, instead of Donald Trump. What I’ve said publicly over and over again to the media is I will not support Mr. Trump under any circumstances. That does not mean automatically supporting Hillary Clinton.”
In a phone interview Thursday, Romano stood by her Facebook post and said Curbelo told her he would be voting for Clinton.
“I really thought he meant it,” she said, sounding a little disappointed. “I guess he told me what I wanted to hear.”
Cali Roberts, who also works at the woman’s clinic and was present when Curbelo and Romano spoke, recalls Curbelo saying he would vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. She said she believed he was saying it as a way of showing them just how much he despised Trump.
If Curbelo is trying to signal to Democrats and Independents in his district he considers Clinton a viable option, he doesn’t want to be too explicit – at least in the media – for fear of angering Republican officials, including the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, whose support he will need to keep his seat. Also, Trump won Monroe County with 54 percent of the vote.
And so when it was suggested he seemed open to the idea of voting for Clinton, it should not be surprising Curbelo again sidestepped the question.
“I think in every election everyone, Republican, Democrat, Independent has to ask themselves: Who is the best candidate for this office?” he said. “I could never explain to my two little girls that I would support Donald Trump.”