HOLLYWOOD, FLA. (WSVN) - As South Florida voters prepare to head to the polls to vote in congressional primaries, the Democratic race for House District 23, pitting U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz against a political outsider, is shaping up to be a tight contest.

For 12 years, Wasserman Schultz, 49, has represented the Sunshine State’s 23rd District, which stretches across Central Broward and down into Eastern Miami-Dade. “I’m out there every single day. I am a 24/7, 365-day member of Congress,” she told 7News during an interview.

This time, the former Democratic National Committee chair is facing a newcomer in the Aug. 30 primary: Nova Southeastern University law professor Tim Canova. “I’m running for her House seat because many people are concerned that she has not adequately represented this district,” he said.

Tim Canova

The incumbent, a longtime Weston resident, said that’s just not true. “My people know that I’m out there all the time,” she said.

Wasserman Schultz, a married mother of three, is a breast cancer survivor who won her first elected office while in her 20s.

Her rival, on the other hand, is a relative unknown, a Franklin Delano Roosevelt-quoting graduate of Georgetown University Law School working out of a storefront in downtown Hollywood. He was appointed by Bernie Sanders in 2011 to a committee to study federal reserve reform.

Although Wasserman Schultz has faced little opposition in past elections, Canova said, this year he believes he has a chance. “Some would say that this campaign won the lottery,” he said.

Wasserman Schultz resigned as DNC chair on the eve of the Democratic National Convention after hacked party emails revealed her frustration with the Sanders campaign. At one point, she called one of Sanders’ top aides a “damn liar.”

“I think she’s been a very divisive DNC chair,” said Canova, “and I don’t think it’s been good for the party at all.”

Wasserman Schultz defended the way the party treated Sanders and his staff during the primary against current Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. “At the end of the day, we ran that primary by the book,” she said. “Honestly, when I’m out on the trail, here in South Florida, voters are not coming to me and saying, ‘Debbie, how about those emails?'”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.

The incumbent pointed to the following achievements as victories for her constituents:

  • Passage of a pool safety law to fight childhood drowning
  • Legislation to protect victims who become pregnant as a result of rape
  • Efforts to pass the Affordable Care Act

“Those are the kinds of bread-and-butter, everyday life issues that the people that I represent talk to me about, not this extraneous political baloney,” she said.

But her primary rival said that controversy caused a spike in his fundraising. The Center for Responsive Politics said Canova leads in small donations, but 89 percent comes from outside of Florida.

Wasserman Schultz far outpaces Canova in accepting money from political action committees but most comes from within Florida.

“She’s raising money from large corporations and banks. We’re not,” said Canova.

“Everyone who contributes to me understands that there is zero connection to the support that they provide for me,” said Wasserman Schultz. “I’m going to continue to stand up for what I think is right.”

Among the items Canova lists as his priorities are:

  • Campaign finance reform
  • Wealth inequality
  • Climate change
  • Decriminalizing marijuana
  • Opposition to privatization of prisons

Wasserman Schultz said her focus will remain on issues involving women, families and seniors. She’s also in favor of the Iran nuclear deal.

“The greatest privilege of my professional life has been to represent my community,” she said. “I want to go out there and continue to fight to help people reach the middle class.”

Canova has filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission claiming Wasserman Schultz has used DNC resources to campaign for her seat. Her camp said the focus needs to remain on the issues and that her opponent has never been involved in the community he is now trying to represent.

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