MIAMI — Leading Florida Republican politicians are launching an all-out effort to convince President Donald Trump to nominate federal Judge Barbara Lagoa to the U.S. Supreme Court — a move they say would boost his reelection chances in the must-win swing state.

The biggest names in the Florida GOP are working behind the scenes to advocate for Lagoa: U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott have sprung into action, along with Gov. Ron DeSantis, Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida campaign director Susie Wiles and the president’s former impeachment defense lawyer, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, according to interviews with a dozen Republicans familiar with the effort.

The Republicans are said to be making the case that the longtime judge and devout Catholic has the legal chops to do the job and the conservative background to appease the GOP base, these people said.

But it’s Lagoa’s background as a Florida Cuban-American that could have the most salience for Trump. His reelection hinges on the too-close-to-call battleground state, where his campaign has made outreach to Hispanic voters a top issue, worrying some Democrats.

“If the president picks Barbara Lagoa, they will be dancing salsa with joy in Hialeah well past November,” said Gaetz, referring to Lagoa’s home town, a blue-collar majority Cuban-American city that borders Miami and leans Republican.

Lagoa, a 52-year-old Columbia Law School graduate and mother of three children, emerged this weekend as a leading contender to take the Supreme Court seat held by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the liberal stalwart who died Friday at the age of 87.

Lagoa is no lock for the post, however. She’s a relative unknown compared to the favorite of Washington’s conservative establishment anti-abortion groups, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who became a darling of the religious right after her bruising federal confirmation fight in 2017. Barrett and Lagoa are both high on the president’s short list for the post, officials with knowledge of the process told POLITICO.

In contrast, Lagoa’s views on abortion are little known. She had no high-profile rulings on the matter in the nearly 500 decisions she wrote as a state appeals court judge or in other decisions during her brief time on the Florida Supreme Court justice and, since late last year, a judge on the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

However, when she was vetted for her federal judgeship, she told the Senate she considered Roe v. Wade the “binding precedent of the Supreme Court“ and “settled law“ — echoing phrases used by Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh when their nominations were being vetted.

“For lower court judges, all Supreme Court precedent, including Roe v. Wade … is settled law,” she wrote in her questionnaire. “If confirmed, I would faithfully apply this precedent and all other precedents of the Supreme Court.“

To Lagoa’s proponents, though, she’s still a blank slate on abortion — something that could be used to hold off Democrats who want to make overturning Roe v. Wade an issue during nomination hearings. They said her background as a conservative Catholic and her history of right-leaning opinions could signal to religious voters that she’s one of them. Gaetz said Lagoa’s lack of a position on abortion could help Republican lawmakers in battleground districts where the future of abortion rights is a top concern.

Indeed, Lagoa’s confirmation vote for the 11th Circuit last year had a much more bipartisan reception, 80-15, than the 55-43 vote on Barrett’s appointment to the 7th Circuit.

“I’ve had swing district members in swing states who reached out to me today and asked what they could do to help Lagoa because they believe Barrett is a problem for them,” Gaetz said, declining to name names.

Gaetz, who spoke at Trump’s nominating convention and frequently chats with the president, wouldn’t discuss whether or when he talked with the president about Lagoa. Scott began reaching out to the president on Sunday, according to aides, and friends of Rubio say he’s starting to weigh in. DeSantis has yet to formally call the president, but go-betweens with the White House and the Tallahassee governor’s mansion have had conversations, according to two knowledgeable sources. The sources also identified Bondi and Wiles as advocates for Lagoa, but neither would comment.

One of the Republican advisers to Trump who spoke to him about Lagoa said the president was particularly receptive to the message about Lagoa’s background. As the child of exiles who fled Castro’s Cuba on what were known as “freedom flights” in 1966, Lagoa’s story aligns with the themes echoed at the GOP convention, which featured two Cuban Americans on consecutive nights waxing poetic about the American dream and the horrors of totalitarian socialism.

Trump plans to campaign in Florida. He plans to stop Thursday in Jacksonville and then is scheduled to head to Miami, where some of his Florida advisers hope he announces Lagoa as his pick. Trump said he expects to nominate someone this week.

“We know Democrats are going to vote against her, even though they voted overwhelmingly to confirm her to the federal bench before,” the Republican said. “Democrats always play the race card. Well, we can as well. What are they going to tell Hispanic voters in Florida about rejecting a Latina for the high court?”

Democrats say they have an easy answer: the rushed vote for a confirmation shouldn’t happen. Instead, they say, the Republican-led Senate should follow the same precedent it set in 2016 when it refused to take up President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, before a presidential election. Trump won, thereby ensuring Garland never got a hearing.

Lagoa would bring some legal baggage with her to a confirmation hearing. Lagoa came came under fire recently for refusing to recusing herself from a case in which the federal appeals court upheld a Florida law that requires felons to pay off their court fines and fees before having their voting rights restored. The law was passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature after voters approved a constitutional amendment that ended the state’s lifetime voting ban for most felons.

Lagoa and another judge on the appeals court previously sat on the state Supreme Court when it considered how to interpret the amendment.

Sen. Kamala Harris was among the co-signers of a letter that criticized Lagoa for not recusing herself from the federal case. Harris, who was later picked as Joe Biden’s running mate, would cast a vote in the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Desmond Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, said Lagoa’s action on the felon voting case shows she is more interested in a political outcome than the law.

“Justice Lagoa was a leading voice in the recent 11th Circuit Court decision that fell squarely along partisan lines and silenced hundreds of thousands of voters in Florida, who months earlier had been legally able to vote,” Meade said in a text. “That decision demonstrated we are fighting so hard for people’s lives to be placed over politics, and that should be the attitude of anyone who aspires to serve on the highest court in the land.”

Democrats say that Lagoa’s decision to join the 6-4 majority that kept the tight voting restrictions on felons could also help rally Black voters because African Americans are disproportionately incarcerated in Florida.

But the racial politics could cut both ways.

“We hope Democrats attack a Latina as a racist,” said a Republican who has discussed Lagoa with Trump’s campaign. “There’s a broad pool of Hispanic voters who will get turned off by that.”

And to Democrats who would accuse Trump of playing identity politics, Republicans note that Biden pledged to pick a Black woman for the court.

Black voters account for 13 percent of registered voters in Florida; Latinos 17 percent. Both are bases of the Democratic Party, but Hispanic voters are more winnable for Republicans, in part because Cuban-Americans tend to vote heavily Republican. For that segment of the Latino electorate, Lagoa backers say, her nomination would help drive turnout.

But there’s a group of independent Hispanic voters, many of them Spanish speakers, who can be messaged to and won by Republicans, strategists say, especially with Biden showing some signs of weakness with Latinos across the state and in Miami-Dade County.

Veteran Democratic pollster and consultant Fernand Amandi, who advised Obama’s successful outreach to Latinos and also consulted for Michael Bloomberg’s primary campaign, said Lagoa’s potential pick would be “a choice pregnant with political considerations.”

“It’s a play for women, Hispanics and most importantly, Florida’s 29 Electoral votes,” Amandi said. “Barbara Lagoa is the conservative Cuban version of Sonia Sotomayor.”

Jesse Panuccio, a longtime Florida attorney and former third-ranking official in the Department of Justice in the Trump administration, echoed Amandi and said the pick of Lagoa could “energize” an important slice of the Florida electorate.

“I think choosing Barbara Lagoa as a Supreme Court nominee would be the best thing the president could do politically in this state,” said Panuccio, who was on the nominating commission that recommended Lagoa for a spot on the state Supreme Court. “It is of course the biggest swing state in the country, everyone knows that.”

Pannucio is a member of the conservative Federalist Society, whose members in Florida and Washington are advocating for Lagoa as well.

A DeSantis adviser said of Lagoa that she’s “money in the bank“ for Trump’s Florida campaign.

“She right on the law. She right on the politics. It’s a no-brainer,“ the adviser said.

Lagoa already made history as the first Hispanic woman and first Cuban-American woman to serve on the Florida Supreme Court. DeSantis announced her selection for the high court at Miami’s Freedom Tower, which welcomed Cuban exiles and where Rubio announced his 2016 bid for president. One Trump confidante hoped the president would use the venue to make his nomination announcement of Lagoa.

Lagoa spent most of her judicial career, 12 years, on a state appeals court branch after being appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush. Her husband, Paul Huck, served as general counsel to Bush’s successor, Charlie Crist, who’s now a Democratic congressman and who described Lagoa as “a delightful person.“

“She’s absolutely charming and struck me as a very good soul,” Crist said.

The rapid ascent of the Florida International University graduate doesn’t surprise those who know Lagoa.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Becerra, who attended Immaculate Conception Catholic School in Hialeah with Lagoa, used one word over and over to describe Lagoa: “Star.” Becerra recalled during her investiture to the Florida Supreme Court how Lagoa played the lead role of the Virgin of Guadalupe in a school play that remains a running joke for them after decades.

It’s Lagoa connections to Miami-Dade — and her role in trying to block President Bill Clinton‘s administration from sending 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez back to his father in Cuba — that could make her too hard to ignore ahead of the election. The decision by the Clinton administration to repatriate Gonzalez, whose mother died trying to escape from Cuba, reverberated through Florida and may have ultimately cost the 2000 election for then-Vice President Al Gore. Gore lost to George W. Bush by 537 votes in an election that was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Eliot Pedrosa, an attorney who worked with Lagoa on the Gonzalez case, said she was “branded by the experience.” Pedrosa, who is now the U.S. executive director of the Inter-American Development Bank, said during Lagoa’s 2019 investiture that the case “seared into her soul” a respect for the “rule of law.”

Former Miami Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who fought to keep Gonzalez in the United States and represented Lagoa’s home town of Hialeah, said Lagoa’s legal record is solid and that her background is “extraordinary” and would help turn out votes as well.

“It’s an American story,” Diaz-Balart said. “Here’s a Hialeah girl who‘s a great student who made her family proud from the moment she was born. And now she’s making the whole community proud.”

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