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Carlos Curbelo Gets Democratic Challenger Who Emigrated from Ecuador

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell lost a state Senate bid last fall

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell said the same opportunities that allowed her immigrant family to get ahead “are disappearing for far too many of us today. (Debbie Mucarsel-Powell via Facebook)
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell said the same opportunities that allowed her immigrant family to get ahead “are disappearing for far too many of us today. (Debbie Mucarsel-Powell via Facebook)

Despite winning his second term by double digits, Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo is a top Democratic target in 2018. Democrats now have a candidate against him in Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who announced her candidacy on Wednesday. 

Mucarsel-Powell has spent the past 14 years working in development at Florida International University. She moved to the U.S. from Ecuador when she was 14, settling first in southern California with her mom, and later following her sister to Florida.

“I immigrated to the United States as a young girl with my mother and three sisters — in search of opportunities to better our lives,” she said announcing her campaign. “However, the same opportunities that allowed my family to get ahead, are disappearing for far too many of us today,” she added. 

Mucarsel-Powell is coming off a failed state Senate run, which she lost 54 to 46 percent last fall. That first campaign, she said, helped introduce her to the community and gave her the opportunity to meet local elected officials. She said she also gained a better understanding of the issues impacting the area, like sea level rise.

Support from her community, she said, was the biggest factor in her decision.

“It was good to hear because I knew having run before how intense it is. I wasn’t going to run just to run,” Mucarsel-Powell said. 

She told the Miami Herald on Tuesday she expects to raise at least $4 million to make the race competitive. On Wednesday, she was more vague, saying she’ll raise whatever it takes to get her message out.

Mucarsel-Powell has been contemplating a congressional bid for the past three or four months, but Curbelo’s vote for the GOP health care bill was a big reason she’s getting in the race, she said Wednesday. She held her campaign launch news conference in front of a community health center. 

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 26th district Tilt Republican. Clinton won it by 16 points last fall. Curbelo won re-election by 12 points against former Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia, who wasn’t the national party’s pick for the nomination after he lost in 2014 amidst a scandal connected to an aide. 

Curbelo has made a point of distancing himself from President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, especially on climate change. A group of well-known local Democrats is hosting a fundraiser for him later this month.

During the 2016 campaign, he was one of the earliest GOP incumbents to say he would not support then-candidate Trump, and initially didn’t rule out voting for Clinton

The president’s firing of FBI Director James Comey this spring led Curbelo to mention impeachment on national TV. (In fact, his office was so committed to letting that be known that it reached out to reporters to clarify that the two-term congressman was the first Republican congressman to drop the “I” word.)

Mucarsel-Powell has tried to tie Curbelo to the president, saying he’s voted with him 86 percent of the time. (Curbelo has supported the president 83 percent of the time, according to CQ Vote Studies, compared to 94 percent for the average member of his conference).

Curbelo doesn’t live in the district, but neither does Mucarsel-Powell. She’s worked in the district and rents a house there, but said her primary residence is just outside the lines. 

Democrat Steve Machat, who received less than 1 percent of the vote in last year’s Senate election, is also running in the 26th District. Mucarsel-Powell has met with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List in Washington, D.C. 

Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC backed House GOP leadership, on Wednesday blasted Mucarsel-Powell as “the handpicked candidate of Nancy Pelosi’s DCCC” and called attention to her 2016 loss in a state Senate district Clinton won. 

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