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Diaz, Novice Candidate, Takes Center Stage

Diaz, Ex-Cop, Pumps Up Democrats

Diaz, Novice Candidate, Takes Center Stage


April 14, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) -- Two years ago, police officer Eddie Diaz was confined to a hospital bed, unable to walk or feed himself because of a traffic stop shooting that killed his partner and left him partially paralyzed.

This weekend, with the aid of a cane, he mounted a stage at the Florida Democratic Party's state conference as a candidate for Congress, and smiled in amazement as the crowd of 2,500 delegates chanted ``Eddie, Eddie.''

``If you had asked me two years ago where I would be today, I would never have believed I was up here addressing the Florida Democratic Party,'' the 31-year-old political novice told delegates Saturday.

The state conference offered him a larger audience to tell his story, which he hopes will translate into more campaign money and volunteers.

His opponent, Republican incumbent Rep. Ric Keller, is expected to have raised more than $1 million by the end of the month.

Diaz, who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination, entered the race only in the past month, and his campaign finance director, David Mowery, said he didn't know yet how much Diaz had raised.

His appearance at the convention already is having an effect.

Producers of CNN's ``Inside Politics'' were impressed with Diaz's speech and plan to air a story on him this week, giving him national television exposure.

And Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., campaigned with the Puerto Rico native at a Hispanic business expo in Orlando on Saturday.

``You're going to have a great congressman in Eddie Diaz,'' Dodd said in Spanish to several businessman. ``You've got to help this guy.''

Diaz also has won an offer of campaign resources from officials who conduct Hispanic outreach for the national Democratic Party, who consider his race in Florida's Eighth District to be among the top five congressional races in the country.

``His entire life story is inspiring to a lot of people -- disabled people, Hispanics, veterans,'' said Luis Rosero, northeast regional communications director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Diaz, a Navy veteran of Operation Desert Storm and an Orlando police officer, was shot eight times during the February 2000 traffic stop, and one bullet lodged in his spine. Although doctors told Diaz he was paralyzed, he learned to walk again, drive, dress himself and perform life's everyday functions.

Emmanuel Saint Nattis of Miami was convicted of shooting the two officers and was sentenced to two life terms. At the time of the shooting, he had been wanted on outstanding warrants.

When it comes to politics, Diaz is about as green as they come. He had never before run for public office, was a registered Republican until last year and still hasn't hired a campaign manager.

But he has enthusiasm. His shooting drew wide attention in the area, and Diaz enjoys some celebrity in central Florida's burgeoning Hispanic community.

When he campaigns, strangers often approach him with hugs.

``He's a living miracle,'' said Rosa Rolon, who met Diaz at the Orlando business expo.

Ana Medina introduced herself and hugged him.

``I love him,'' Medina said. ``Anybody who goes through something like that, you feel for him. I hope he wins.''

Diaz, Ex-Cop, Pumps Up Democrats

By Sean Mussenden

April 14, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

LAKE BUENA VISTA -- Congressional aspirant Eddie Diaz came out swinging Saturday in a speech to fellow Democrats, making clear that his push to unseat Orlando's incumbent Republican congressman has officially begun.

In a forceful address at the state Democratic convention, Diaz unleashed his first public attacks on the record of U.S. Rep. Ric Keller, his likely opponent in this fall's elections.

Diaz -- a former Orlando police officer who has caught the eye of Democratic fund-raisers -- prompted a hail of boos when he announced that until recently, he was a Republican.

Those boos turned into chants of "Eddie, Eddie," when he told of his painful recovery after being shot on duty two years ago. They got louder when he accused Keller of approving tax breaks for wealthy corporations at the expense of the nation's schoolchildren.

"My friends, Eddie Diaz is ready for a fight," he said.

In a telephone interview after the speech, Keller said he is ready to defend his first-term performance in Washington.

"I think the voting record I have is strong, particularly supporting President Bush on tax relief, education and the war on terrorism," Keller said.

No longer a political newcomer, he expects to have more than $1 million in his campaign war chest by the end of the month. At the same time, redistricting has given Keller a more solidly Republican district to run in than he had in 2000.

Still, national Democrats are hard at work strategizing for Diaz. They view him as one of their best hopes for erasing the Republicans' narrow advantage in the House of Representatives.

They hope to energize Hispanic voters and flood the race with national party money.

"I talk about Eddie Diaz when I travel all over the country," Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said. "He's a great story."

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