GOP stalwart Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart to retire

Prominent Cuban-American leaving Congress. His brother, also currently in the House, may run for his seat

Published February 11, 2010 5:52PM (EST)

Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., one of the last of the really powerful Florida Cubans in Congress, will not be running for reelection this year. The congressman, first elected to office in 1992, announced his retirement Thursday.

Diaz-Balart's seat doesn't look like a great Democratic pickup opportunity, especially not in this political environment. But the Democrats might get a seat out of this anyway, if an interesting scenario already rumored ends up playing out.

Diaz-Balart's younger brother Mario also serves in the House as a Republican from Florida. Mario Diaz-Balart's district isn't as reliably Republican as his elder brother's is; the younger man faced a tough fight in 2008, though he ultimately prevailed, 53-47. So Mario Diaz-Balart might run in Lincoln Diaz-Balart's place, opening up his own district.

There's also a larger political dynamic here. Florida's politics have long been heavily influenced by the Cuban exile community, but in 2008 the non-Cuban Hispanic vote dominated, giving the state to Barack Obama. A continued influx of non-Cuban Hispanics will further diminish the influence of the Cuban community, which is also getting younger; as first-generation immigrants die, their children are less hard-line and also less Republican. With the elder Diaz-Balart's exit, there will be only two Cuban-Americans left in the House -- Mario Diaz-Balart and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

Update: Mario Diaz-Balart has released a statement making it official: He's running for the seat that his brother's leaving behind.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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