Follow CBSMIAMI.COM: Facebook | Twitter

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Trailing in his bid to win a Congressional seat, Democratic State Rep. David Richardson has sharpened his attacks on front-runner Donna Shalala, but denies his campaign is simply a series of negative attacks on his rival.

“I don’t think it’s unfair to differentiate policy positions,” Richardson said. “So Donna and I have very, very different policy positions on some policy issues, including health care. And I don’t think that is negative campaigning. I think that is just informing voters.”

In an interview with CBS4 News, Richardson said he supports a “Medicare for all” solution, while Shalala refuses to commit to it.

“Right now we are spending more per country on healthcare and we are getting poorer outcomes,” he said, defending a proposal that critics say could result in trillions of dollars and result in higher taxes.

“You can pay for it when you take the profits out of healthcare,” he said. “Billions and billions of dollars of profit are built into our healthcare system – that’s how you pay for it.”

Last month, Richardson, who is seeking to replace retiring Cuban American congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, traveled to Cuba for a two-day “listening tour” where he said he met with ordinary citizens and not government officials.

Richardson has called for an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

He said his trip reinforced that belief.

“The big takeaway is the ordinary citizens, especially these individuals that have these small businesses, they told me that in 2016 they had the best year ever,” Richardson said. “They got a little taste of what it was like to have a small business and have it successful because of the changes that the Obama Administration had.”

Richardson, who currently represents Little Havana in the state Legislature, gave the example of a woman who had a small restaurant in her home in Cuba that was serving 200 people a day but are now serving only 30. “So they have had to lay off employees,” he said.

CBS4 News’s Jim DeFede asked Richardson if he believed the problem in Cuba was the result of the United States or the result of the Cuban government?

“It’s two things,” he replied. “Clearly the policy of the United States is affecting ordinary citizens in Cuba, but also changes within the Cuban government have affected as well. The Cuban government has rolled back the number of licenses that an individual can have. They’ve also put some limitations on the number of chairs you can have at a restaurant. So those policies are hurting as well. So it’s a combination of the two.”

DeFede followed up by asking: Do you think there has been good done by the Cuban government? Are you sympathetic to the Cuban government?

“I wouldn’t say that I’m sympathetic to the Cuban government,” he said. “I would say the people in Cuba seem to be more outspoken from what I expected them to be. I met with a number of people, just ordinary citizens, running small businesses. I met with some people from the LGBT community. I think there has been great progress from what they told me personally over the last ten years on those issues as they relate to human rights. Because we know Cuba does not have a good history on human rights including their treatment toward the LGBT community.”

One of the consequences of this year’s election is the possibility that the seat held by Ros-Lehtinen, the first Cuban-American elected to Congress, could end up in the hands of a non-Hispanic. Only 45, or about eight percent, of the 435 members of Congress are Hispanic, even though Hispanics represent 17 percent of the population. And the district itself is 70 percent Hispanic and yet none of the Democratic candidates are Hispanic.

“If you are an effective leader you can represent all those different demographics,” Richardson said.

Jim DeFede