Special Election Favorite Has Ascended Rapidly

Posted February 1, 2010 at 5:59pm

After Republican Scott Brown’s stunning Senate special election victory in Massachusetts, Democrats have insisted that they are taking no race for granted in the current political environment. But it would be difficult to find any party strategist willing to bet against Florida state Sen. Ted Deutch (D) becoming the next Congressman from the 19th district.

Deutch still has today’s special primary and an April special election to win before he can fill the seat vacated by former Rep. Robert Wexler (D). But with more than $1 million raised in three months, the backing of three South Florida Democratic Members and former President Bill Clinton — not to mention Wexler’s endorsement — it’s probably not too early for the one-term state legislator to start measuring the drapes.

Deutch’s path from political unknown to Congressional frontrunner has been surprisingly short. In fact, the impressive campaign Deutch has put together since Wexler announced his resignation in October is only his second race for public office.

It was just five years ago when Deutch’s name appeared, almost as an afterthought, in a Palm Beach Post story about possible candidates in the open state Senate race to replace now-Rep. Ron Klein (D).

After mentioning a pair of state legislators as the likely successors to Klein, the Post wrote on Jan. 24, 2005, “but keep an eye on attorney Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, a Democratic money-raiser who’s been active in pro-Israel issues.—

Since then, Deutch has matched his hard work, fundraising acumen and natural politicking skills with some good timing and a few very good political patrons.

Deutch, 43, was born in Bethlehem, Pa., and earned his undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Michigan.

After a brief stop after college at the Washington, D.C., law firm known today as Dickstein Shapiro, Deutch moved to Cleveland before finally settling in South Florida in 1998. He began work at the firm Broad and Cassell, where his brother also practiced law.

Before he entered politics, Deutch became very active in the local Jewish community in Palm Beach County.

In fact, that’s where Deutch first met Wexler, who resigned in December to become president of the Center for Middle East Peace.

“We worked together on issues affecting the local Jewish community,— Wexler recalled. “Ted was very active and still is in the South Palm Beach county Jewish federation and we both share a passion for the American-Israeli relationship, which is also, of course, very important to the interests of a very significant number of our mutual constituents.—

The 19th district is solidly Democratic, and with its large number of condo communities that are home to thousands of Jewish retirees, it has one of the highest percentage of Jewish residents of any district in America.

Klein, Deutch’s predecessor in the state Senate and also a former colleague at the same law firm, said many of the senior citizens in Palm Beach County look at Deutch as a kind of adopted grandson.

Deutch is “that nice Jewish boy who works hard, has aspired professionally, has done well. They are very proud of him. It’s a very familial kind of connection,— Klein said.

“He is the epitome of the word mensch,— added Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D), who like Klein has also endorsed Deutch.

In addition to his work in the community, Deutch was gaining notice for his political involvement, particularly for his efforts to raise and donate money. From 2003 to 2005, campaign finance reports show Deutch gave more than $15,000 to political action committees and federal candidates, including Klein, Wasserman Schultz and Wexler.

When Deutch decided to jump into the open state Senate seat race in 2005, he went to Wexler.

Originally Wexler planned to stay neutral in the state Senate primary. But when the frontrunner in the race, a well-funded state Representative, took issue with Wexler’s endorsement policy, a war of words developed. By the spring of that year Wexler became Deutch’s most prominent supporter.

“Running against a three-term member of the Florida House who had virtually unlimited resources was a heck of a first race for any political candidate,— Deutch recalled. “Having Congressman Wexler’s support helped me in my efforts to reach out to large parts of the community that just didn’t know me or the work that I had already done in the community.—

After winning his state Senate seat, Deutch earned recognition during his first term for pushing through legislation in the Florida Legislature that sanctioned Iran.

Wexler said Deutch’s efforts to pass Protecting Florida’s Investment Act “reflected both smart policy and smart politics.—

But Deutch and Wexler haven’t always agreed on every issue. During the 2008 presidential race, Deutch endorsed then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) while Wexler championed then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

Wexler said the disagreement in the presidential primary did not affect their friendship or working relationship.

In retrospect, Wexler said, “Ted’s sentiment was more reflective of the sentiments of our constituents than my decision.—

Last fall, when Wexler decided to move on from Congress, he said he knew Deutch would be the right person to fill his shoes.

“One of the reasons I felt comfortable making the decision I made was knowing that there was a highly capable replacement that my constituents would embrace immediately,— Wexler said.

Deutch moved quickly after Wexler’s announcement, joining the Congressional race the next day and earning the status of frontrunner because of his state Senate district’s location within the Congressional district and, more importantly, Wexler’s endorsement. Soon, top potential rivals began dropping out of the race and other major endorsements flowed in. Deutch’s fundraiser with former President Bill Clinton in January brought in six figures for the campaign and pushed its fundraising past the $1 million mark.

“For someone who has spent as much time working on international issues, I always thought that it would be an incredible opportunity to serve in the United States Congress,— Deutch said. “But given my Congressman was a seven-term popular incumbent, I did not think that would be an opportunity that would come along any time soon.—

On today’s ballot, Deutch will face Ben Graber, a former Broward County commissioner and former state legislator, in the Democratic primary. According to his pre-primary report, Graber has raised just more than $45,000 for his bid and donated another $32,000 of his own money to his campaign.