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MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — Former Clinton administration Cabinet member and university president Donna Shalala won the Democratic nomination Tuesday for a U.S. House seat in Florida widely seen as one of the party’s best chances nationally for a pickup from the GOP.
Shalala will meet Republican nominee Maria Elvira Salazar in the November general election.
Shalala defeated four candidates in the Miami-area race. Longtime incumbent Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring, and the seat has been trending more Democratic for years.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton took the district by about 20 percentage points over President Donald Trump even as Ros-Lehtinen was re-elected.
Shalala, 77, served eight years as President Bill Clinton’s Health and Human Services secretary. She also was president of both the University of Miami and the University of Wisconsin.
This is Shalala’s first run for elected office. She has campaigned on her experience and knowledge of many key Democratic issues, such as health care, immigration reform and preventing gun violence.
“Our theme is basically: ready on Day One,” Shalala said in a recent interview.
Shalala banked that voters would see her experience as an asset. The Democratic candidates had similar positions on most key issues, such as tackling climate change, reducing gun violence, improving healthcare, and overhauling immigration. But none could match Shalala’s lengthy record or familiar name.
Shalala has said she’s confident Democrats will flip the seat from the GOP no matter which Republican is nominated. Part of the reason, she said, is strong Democratic voter enthusiasm traceable to their opposition to the Trump presidency.
“There’s no question about it. In all their experience, Trump is their worst nightmare,” she said.
The 56-year-old Salazar emerged from a crowded field to win the GOP primary. She has worked in Spanish-language broadcast news since 1984 and interviewed Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the mid-1990s, one of the few reporters to score a one-on-one interview.
She has styled herself as an expert on Latin American affairs and the U.S. Hispanic community and has emphasized conservative positions on issues such as creating jobs, improving education, reforming health care and immigration, and opposing abortion in most cases.
“The voters recognized our message of optimism and opportunity and rejected the politics of lies manipulation and division. As a committed Christian, I hold no grudges. Let’s work together because the task at hand is too important,” she said.
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen said Salazar understands what it takes to win.
“She’s going to try to grab those Democrat votes and Independent votes because in my district, it’s a good cosmopolitan, diverse mix of voters. You can’t win with just one party. She understands that. She’s going to work for the environment, she’s going to ease our transit woes. She understands this community because she’s one of us,” said Ros-Lehtinen.
In other U.S House races in Florida, no incumbents were defeated and one, Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, was re-elected after winning her primary because she has no general election opponents. Another Democrat, Rep. Al Lawson, pushed back a strong effort by a former Jacksonville mayor and a third Democrat, Rep. Alcee Hastings, is well on his way to a 14th term because he faces only a write-in candidate in November.
Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who represents a South Florida district the Democrats have targeted, easily won his primary and will face Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a native of Ecuador, in the fall election.