Gearing up to run for a second term in Congress, a South Florida Democrat is trying to claim the political center.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., announced that she was joining the New Democrat Coalition. With more than 100 members–almost half of the Democrats sitting in the U.S. House, the coalition is, according to Shalala’s office, “a solutions-oriented coalition of Democrats committed to growing our economy and increasing opportunity for all.”

Shalala weighed in on why she joined the caucus last week.

“My entire career in public service and higher education has been devoted to developing and delivering pragmatic solutions and policies that utilize both the government and private sector, symbiotically,” Shalala said. “As a new member of New Dems, I am looking forward to working with a group of like-minded policy leaders who are committed to economic growth, job security, national security and prosperity for all. Our constituents want to see Congress work for the people and engage in common sense solutions to solve our country’s most pressing issues. I will ensure our message is heard in South Florida and across the country.”

“The New Democrat Coalition is made up of over 100 forward-thinking Democrats who are committed to pro-economic growth, pro-innovation, and fiscally responsible policies. New Democrats are a solutions-oriented coalition seeking to bridge the gap between left and right by challenging outmoded partisan approaches to governing. New Democrats believe the challenges ahead are too great for members of Congress to refuse to cooperate purely out of partisanship,” the congresswoman’s office insisted.

Shalala will find a host of familiar faces from the Florida delegation in the coalition. Members from the Sunshine State include Florida Democrat U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Al Lawson, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Last year, Shalala flipped a seat that had been held by retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and the freshman Democrat has already drawn the fire of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). On paper, this is a swing district with 35 percent of voters there registered as Democrats while 32 percent are Republicans. But in 2016 Hillary Clinton did very well in this district, which includes parts of Miami Dade County, taking 58 percent of voters here while Donald Trump pulled 38 percent. While Shalala has a primary opponent in Donald Summerall and retired engineer and businessman Gabe Ferrer is running as a Republican, she does start out as the favorite to retain her seat though that could change if she draws more opponents. Last year, Shalala took 52 percent while Republican Maria Elvira Salazar pulled 46 percent.

Shalala served as president of the University of Miami and as U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) during all eight years of the Clinton presidency, making her the longest serving person to hold that Cabinet post.


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