MIAMI — U.S. House candidate Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera has a long list of accomplishments to bolster her campaign in Florida. But she is perhaps best known for claiming that she was abducted by space aliens as a child.
Rodriguez Aguilera is a longshot in the race for the Miami-area seat being vacated by retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Yet last weekend, the Miami Herald endorsed her for the GOP nomination in the Tuesday primary out of a field of nine candidates.
In an interview, Rodriguez Aguilera said she is grateful for the endorsement and that her tale of kidnapping by aliens does not define her.
"It has nothing to do with what I have done. It happened when I was 7 years old," she said. "I am so proud of the Herald and what they did."
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Rodriguez Aguilera says she was taken aboard a spaceship as a young girl by blond extraterrestrials who resembled the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. She says they told her that the "center of the world's energy is Africa" and that thousands of non-human skulls were once discovered in a cave on the Mediterranean island of Malta.
She has said she witnessed paranormal activity since then and saw a UFO at age 17. She also said she has been in touch with the aliens telepathically long after the abduction.
Even if it's hard to believe there's a starman waiting in the sky, Rodriguez Aguilera won't back down.
"I stick to my guns when I believe in something," she said.
In its Sunday editorial , the Herald reported that two of the leading Republican candidates - former Miami-Dade commissioner Bruno Barreiro and Spanish-language television journalist Maria Elvira Salazar - did not take part in the paper's endorsement process. And beyond Rodriguez Aguilera, the editorial found the remaining candidates unprepared or unqualified.
"We realize that Rodriguez Aguilera is an unusual candidate," the editorial noted, adding that the paper was impressed with her "boots-on-the-ground ideas and experience."
Rodriguez Aguilera is a former City Council member in the suburb of Doral who is the daughter of a Cuban political prisoner. She previously was a social worker, ombudsman at the Miami-Dade county manager's office and now runs a business training women in other countries how to run for political office.
"The theme of my campaign is people above politics. I train people around the world about democracy," she said. "I have the most experience. I can go in there and start working just as I have all my life."
Whoever emerges from the GOP field Tuesday will face one of five Democratic candidates and the seat is considered one of the party's best chances for a switch from the GOP.
Polls show the leader on the Democratic side is former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, who was also president of the University of Miami and University of Wisconsin. The Herald, however, endorsed state Rep. David Richardson over Shalala.
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This story has corrected the spelling of Aguilera's last name.