Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL) speaks during a press conference on February 4, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Alex Edelman | Getty Images
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., Was dragged into Congress two years ago in a "blue wave" of Democratic victories that had many stories like her own – a black immigrant knocking down a reigning Republican.
Now Mucarsel-Powell, who holds the most vulnerable Democratic seat in Florida, is facing a test of her stamina. She is challenged by Miami-Dade County's temporary mayor Carlos Gimenez, an immigrant from Cuba who is backed by President Donald Trump.
Mucarsel-Powell's efforts to uphold Florida's 26th Congressional District are a key element in the Democrats' attempt to retain the majority they won in the House of Representatives last cycle.
The district will also play a prominent role in Trump's attempt to defeat Democratic candidate Joe Biden with a strategy that depends heavily on the support of the South Florida Cuban people who have warmed to the president in recent years.
The 26th district, which includes suburbs of Miami and parts of the Florida Keys, is the third largest immigrant in the country, including many Cuban Americans. According to the American Public Media Research Lab, the district has a majority of the Latino population, making up nearly 70% of the voting age population.
Unlike the majority of Latino voters in the US, Cuban Americans tend to oppose Republicans. Mucarsel-Powell, who immigrated from Ecuador, is the first person not to represent the area from Cuba in more than three decades. (The 26th district was created after the 2010 census and redrawn in 2015.)
Susan MacManus, a Florida political analyst, said an underlying issue of the Cuban versus non-Cuban Latina race was "in a region where country of origin matters".
"Gimenez emphasized his experience and anti-socialist credentials," she added.
Although there are few publicly available polls in the district, the race between Mucarsel-Powell and Gimenez is expected to be close. Mucarsel-Powell won against incumbent MP Carlos Curbelo by just 2 percentage points in 2018.
A poll for the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican spending committee, found that Gimenez gained 5 percentage points in July. Non-partisan forecasters estimate the race may lean slightly in Mucarsel-Powell's favor, or see it as a mistake.
Trump, who needs Florida's 29 electoral college votes to get a reasonable shot at victory, is on par with Biden in the state, averages from recent polls show. Both Trump and Biden spent Thursday in Florida energizing voters during the final stretch, a sign of the state's importance to the race.
While the district's president lost double digits to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, the region has a history of ticket splitting, particularly in favor of Cuban Republicans with voting results, according to Florida-based liberal analyst Matthew Isbell.
Trump is likely to do better in the district than it did four years ago, as Cubans who were conscious of his policies increasingly support him. The president's rising fortune could serve to drain some of the attacks against Gimenez.
"As we head into 2020, we're seeing a lot of these Cubans actually returning home, with no quote, to the GOP, and hence any hope of using Trump as a boogeyman or anchor against the Republicans, which isn't working out well," Isbell said.
Gimenez himself illustrates the phenomenon. In 2016, he approved Clinton as president. This time he is promoting his ties to the president.
The race has echoes in the presidential competition. Gimenez, for example, has boosted his economic record and tried to portray Mucarsel-Powell as one of the most liberal members of the Democratic Party. The Republicans have suggested that it has links to socialism and have led a controversy with Ukraine.
"As mayor, I achieved the largest tax cut in the county's history, balancing billions in budgets, protecting the environment and much more," Gimenez said in a statement. "Now I'm running for Congress to bring these lessons in frontline leadership experience to Washington. I'm going to bring us together instead of being a mouthpiece for the partisans."
Republican-produced advertisements have repeatedly focused on an indirect link between the Mucarsel-Powell family and Ukraine. Mucarsel-Powell's husband, Robert Powell, worked for companies that were partly owned by Ukrainian billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky. Robert Powell has denied having significant connections with Kolomoisky.
"This city is far too familiar with violent thugs," says the narrator in an ad as images of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro appear on the screen. "And Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is far too familiar with the violent warlord Ihor Kolomoisky."
The attacks mirror those that Trump threw in Biden. In July, Trump told Venezuelan expatriates at an event in the state that "Joe Biden and the radical left are trying to enforce the same system – socialism plus – in America."
A Spanish-language ad titled "Castrochavismo," published by Trump earlier this month, links Biden to Castro and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.
There is evidence that Trump's strategy is working, which could be bad news for Mucarsel-Powell. Just a few weeks ago, Trump was 4 percentage points behind Biden in Florida before closing the gap in recent weeks.
Biden, who largely fended off Trump's attacks, asked Pennsylvania voters in August, "Do I look like a radical socialist?" – used its most powerful spokesperson, former President Barack Obama, to fend off criticism in a speech in Miami on Saturday.
"Some of the rhetoric you hear here in South Florida is made up. It's just nonsense," Obama said at the campaign rally. "If you listen to the Republicans, you think Joe was more communist than the Castros. Don't fall for this junk."
"Joe Biden is not a socialist. He was a senator from Delaware. He was my vice president. I think people would know if he's a secret socialist now," Obama said.
Carlos A. Gimenez, Mayor of Miami-Dade County speaks during a press conference on hurricane season updates at the Miami-Dade Emergency Operations Center on June 8, 2020 in Miami, Florida.
Eva Marie Uzcategui | Getty Images
In her own final argument, Mucarsel-Powell focused on health care and Gimenez's report on Covid-19 as Mayor. She spent over $ 1 million on an ad purchase last month, highlighting the differences between her and Gimenez on the matter.
"Republicans, Democrats and people from all walks of life in the 26th District support my campaign because I have proven that I will always stand up for access to health care, well-paid jobs, and a fair shot at American dreams," said Mucarsel -Powell in a statement.
"With the Miami Herald joining a chorus of support for our campaign this week, it is not surprising that Carlos Gimenez and his Washington Republican allies are resorting to false attacks to divert attention from their utter failure of leadership during this public health crisis ", added her.
In an interview with CBS Miami earlier this month, Congressman Gimenez's handling of the pandemic compared to that of Trump and suggested his response to the crisis.
"I think (Gimenez) knows he failed to protect our community from coronavirus. I know he recognizes that both Republican mayors, town mayors here in the county, and Democratic town mayors, are his failures to lead Have denounced this crisis, "she said.
Sarah Guggenheimer, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Campaigns Committee, said Mucarsel-Powell's "story is the story of South Florida – coming to America at a young age and working your way from a donut shop as a teenager to become the first South American woman Immigrants to serve in Congress. "
"In her first term, she delivered for her constituents, brought crucial COVID-19 relief and posted the bill to ensure Medicare Advantage covered the COVID-19 tests," added Guggenheimer. "South Florida knows they can count on Mucarsel-Powell to deliver results, unlike Corrupt Carlos Giménez, who has only taken care of himself, his family and his corporate donors."
In the final phase, Mucarsel-Powell benefits from a cash advantage. The latest data, compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, showed the Democrat raised more than $ 6 million, compared to less than $ 2 million for Gimenez. Mucarsel-Powell also had nearly three times its cash on hand at $ 582,098 versus $ 234,499.
Isbell said Mucarsel-Powell's strategy could be effective in encouraging Democrats to vote, especially non-Cuban Hispanic voters, who tend to have lower turnout rates than Cubans.
"Victory in 26 is not only the campaign of persuasion, but also ensuring a good electorate," he said. "There are a lot of different democratic pockets in this district that Democrats have to show up in to make sure the district stays blue."
Isbell said he believes the race will be towards Mucarsel-Powell, although it will be close.
In a statement, National Republican Congress Committee spokeswoman Camille Gallo said Mucarsel-Powell will be "voted out".
"Whether it's her record of being one of the most partisan members of Congress, ties to a seedy Ukrainian warlord, or the fact that her husband's employer received $ 15 million in PPP loans, it's easy to see why Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is losing this race. "Gallo said.