Bronx's Diaz May Back Trump but Still Aims to Win Nation's Bluest District

In 2018, Democrats added one of the most progressive members to the House in Bronx Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Now, the Bronx could elect one of the most conservative ones on Tuesday in the race for the 15th Congressional district.

Reverend Ruben Diaz Sr., a flamboyant, cowboy hat-wearing, tell-it-like-it-is Puerto Rican politician with a strong evangelical base, has run afoul of Democrats for past incendiary comments about gays and abortion, and for saying he is still considering voting for President Donald Trump in November.

"The choice in the South Bronx could not be more clear, Ruben Diaz Sr. is a Trump-loving, anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ, Republican lookalike," said Eric Koch, a strategist with anti-Diaz super PAC Bronx United. "He has no place in Congress and would be an endless distraction at a time when the Bronx and New York need real leadership."

Despite opposition from national Democratic groups who have endorsed his opponent Ritchie Torres, who is gay, the lone poll of the race from Data Progress saw Diaz Sr. slightly edging Torres out, 22 percent to 20 percent.

Torres, who planned to spend the day traversing the subway and poll sites in the district from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. before watching the results come in told Newsweek he was "feeling confident" and voters faced a stark choice between him and Diaz Sr.

"It's a change election in a change moment and I'm the change candidate," he said.

But Diaz Sr. has long had one advantage no one else can replicate: his son and namesake Ruben Diaz Jr. is Bronx borough president and the most popular politician in the Bronx, New York political observers said. And the patriarch will benefit from the connection one more time, with the ballot Tuesday including only the name Ruben Diaz, with no "Sr."

Jennifer Blatus, a political strategist with Stu Loeser and Co., who interned with Diaz Jr., believes the connection works wonders for Diaz Sr., but said it's no effort at subterfuge.

"It's not a trick, it's what it says on his license," she told Newsweek.

Diaz Sr. has a long list of comments that would become immediate headaches for Democrats should he win election a Democratic nomination in deep-blue New York, which makes November a formality. He was slammed last year for saying the city council is "controlled by the homosexual community." He also once compared abortion to the Holocaust and in 2005 said Michael Bloomberg and Democrat Fernando Ferrer "have nothing to offer me according to the Bible" in the mayoral race due to their support of abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

Despite acknowledging that he has enduring support in his district from evangelicals and seniors because of his constituent services, Blatus forecasted that a Diaz Sr. win would be a nightmare for Democrats in Congress.

"This is something Trump would want to see," she said. "A Democrat who agrees with Trump is something he needs right now."

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New York City Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr. leads a rally outside his office to protest his suspension from a city council committee for making comments that many believed were homophobic, on February 14, 2019, in the Bronx borough of New York City. Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images/Getty