The Worst Congressional Comeback Attempt Ever?

Former Rep. David Rivera lost his House primary in Florida Tuesday after a campaign as unusual as the rest of his career.

Former Rep. David Rivera, R-Fla., on the campaign trail in 2010.
National Journal
Jack Fitzpatrick and Adam Wollner
Aug. 27, 2014, 1 a.m.

When Dav­id Rivera first ran for the Flor­ida state House in 2002, po­lice re­ports al­lege that he in­ten­tion­ally ran his car in­to a truck that was de­liv­er­ing his op­pon­ent’s fly­ers, which at­tacked Rivera’s char­ac­ter. His ex­plan­a­tion for ram­ming the truck off the busy Pal­metto Ex­press­way in Miami, minutes be­fore that day’s post of­fice dead­line? Rivera claimed he wanted to re­trieve his own fly­ers, which he said were also on the truck.

In the 12 years since, Rivera’s story has only got­ten more bizarre.

Rivera, who served in Con­gress from 2011 to 2013, of­fi­cially lost his hap­less comeback bid Tues­day, fall­ing short in the Re­pub­lic­an primary elec­tion in Flor­ida’s 26th Dis­trict. Miami-Dade County School Board mem­ber Car­los Cur­belo won the nom­in­a­tion with about half of the primary vote, more than five times what Rivera got (in fourth place) after an­oth­er roller coast­er of a cam­paign.

It may have been the worst con­gres­sion­al comeback at­tempt of all time. Rivera lost the nom­in­a­tion, but he dom­in­ated the head­lines. Throughout the race, he faced ques­tions about his role in an al­leged 2012 cam­paign fin­ance scheme, sparred with the me­dia, and even briefly sus­pen­ded his cam­paign for un­clear reas­ons””only to re­start it just two weeks be­fore the elec­tion. (Also, Rivera may have been cam­paign­ing dur­ing the “sus­pen­sion.”)

The latest chapter in Rivera’s saga star­ted in 2012, when The Miami Her­ald re­por­ted that, ac­cord­ing to cam­paign vendors, Rivera had fun­ded a Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate’s cam­paign, hop­ing that polit­ic­al new­comer Justin Lamar Ster­nad would beat Demo­crat Joe Gar­cia in the primary and then lose to Rivera in the gen­er­al elec­tion. Ac­cord­ing to The Her­ald’s sources, Rivera or­gan­ized and helped fund a soph­ist­ic­ated mail cam­paign for Ster­nad against Gar­cia””who won the Demo­crat­ic primary and then beat Rivera in 2012 as the al­leg­a­tions troubled the Re­pub­lic­an’s cam­paign. Rivera had faced scru­tiny (and nar­rowly avoided crim­in­al charges) for mis­us­ing cam­paign funds earli­er in his con­gres­sion­al term, but the “straw cam­paign” rev­el­a­tions brought his House ca­reer crash­ing down.

Ster­nad later pleaded guilty to cam­paign-fin­ance vi­ol­a­tions and was even­tu­ally sen­tenced to sev­en months in pris­on. In the mean­time, Ana Al­liegro, a friend of Rivera’s who man­aged Ster­nad’s cam­paign des­pite be­ing a Re­pub­lic­an, fled to Nicaragua and was ar­res­ted there and sent back to the U.S. in March of this year.

It was against this back­drop that Rivera de­cided to make an­oth­er run for Con­gress. It did not go well.

MAY

Less than two months after Al­liegro was ar­res­ted, Rivera an­nounced he would run for his old seat in Flor­ida’s 26th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict. He de­clined to an­swer ques­tions about the on­go­ing in­vest­ig­a­tion””or any­thing else””when fil­ing his pa­per­work, simply re­peat­ing, “You can email me” to an in­quis­it­ive Miami Her­ald re­port­er, who video­taped the en­counter. Rivera said he would only an­swer ques­tions in Span­ish.

JUNE

Just one month in­to the cam­paign, Rivera found him­self in more leg­al trouble, which stemmed from his ten­ure as a mem­ber of the state House. A judge told the state eth­ics com­mis­sion that Rivera im­prop­erly billed both his cam­paign and his gov­ern­ment of­fice for travel and failed to file com­plete per­son­al fin­an­cial dis­clos­ure forms. The re­port ac­cused Rivera of break­ing a Flor­ida eth­ics law each year from 2005 to 2009.

JU­LY

After a little more than 10 weeks on the trail, Rivera sus­pen­ded his cam­paign, say­ing he would run for the state House in 2016 in­stead. Strangely, he cited a court de­cision that came down the day be­fore which said that two of the state’s con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts had to be re­drawn. The case did not res­ult in any changes to Rivera’s dis­trict.

AU­GUST

Rivera sus­pen­ded his con­gres­sion­al cam­paign, but some voters still re­por­ted get­ting rob­ocalls from Rivera about the elec­tion. In one of the phone mes­sages, Rivera said, in Span­ish: “Your bal­lot to vote should have already ar­rived. And al­though the false cam­paign by The Miami Her­ald con­tin­ues, I will keep fight­ing for our best in­terests. That’s why I ask that you vote for a con­ser­vat­ive fight­er like me, Dav­id Rivera, for Con­gress.”

It’s un­clear how much Rivera spent on the calls or how he paid for them. A re­port filed with the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion shows no money raised or spent by Rivera’s cam­paign from Ju­ly 1 to Aug. 6. Rivera’s cam­paign also re­por­ted hav­ing just over $1,000 in the bank and nearly $14,000 in debt at the time the rob­ocalls were in the field.

About a week after the rob­ocalls sur­faced””and two weeks out from Elec­tion Day””Rivera re­sumed cam­paign­ing. He par­ti­cip­ated in a tele­vised de­bate with the oth­er four GOP can­did­ates, but asked to be patched in from an early-vot­ing site, say­ing he would be cam­paign­ing nearby. The oth­er can­did­ates were un­able to hear his an­swers to ques­tions, and one of the de­bate’s hosts later pos­ted on Twit­ter that Rivera “did no cam­paign­ing” at the site.

Last week, Al­liegro pleaded guilty in the cam­paign fin­ance case, while Rivera was of­fi­cially named a co-con­spir­at­or in the scheme. Even though Rivera won’t be a mem­ber of Con­gress again any­time soon, don’t ex­pect his name to dis­ap­pear from the head­lines.

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