Former Democratic congresswoman to challenge Rick Scott for Florida Senate seat

Former Democratic congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell launched a campaign Tuesday in Florida to challenge Sen. Rick Scott (R), the former governor who is seeking reelection in 2024 to his second Senate term.

In a campaign video posted Tuesday titled “Do Something About It,” Mucarsel-Powell, 52, cast Scott as someone who would support a national abortion plan, threaten Social Security and Medicare and raise taxes on lower-income Americans.

“Ya no más,” Mucarsel-Powell says in the video, using the Spanish for “no more.” “I’m an immigrant, a Latina, a mother. … I’ve already fought guys like Rick Scott and beat them.”

Mucarsel-Powell, who was born in Ecuador, defeated Republican incumbent Carlos Curbelo in 2018 to represent South Florida’s 26th Congressional District, becoming the first immigrant from South America to be elected to Congress. She served one term and lost her 2020 reelection campaign to now-Rep. Carlos A. Gimenez (R-Fla.), the former mayor of Miami-Dade County.

Scott’s campaign did not immediately comment on Mucarsel-Powell’s entrance into the race.

Upon announcing his reelection plans in January, Scott, 70, noted that he had never lost a political race and pledged to continue his efforts to “fight for conservative values, stand up to Joe Biden and the radical, woke Democrats, and bring common-sense to Washington.”

Following her 2020 reelection loss, Mucarsel-Powell rejected a push by national Democrats encouraging her to challenge Gimenez. She instead devoted herself to combating Spanish-language disinformation, which she has previously said played a role in why she lost her reelection campaign.

Several people familiar with Mucarsel-Powell’s candidacy, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to outline internal campaign decisions, said her decision to run for Senate hinged on seeing a pathway to beat Scott even though Republicans have recently shown a consistent hold on the Sunshine State. A Democratic presidential or Senate candidate has not won Florida since President Barack Obama carried the state in 2012.

A senior adviser to her campaign said her candidacy to become the second Latina elected to the Senate could help galvanize Hispanic voters who were once a reliable base for Democrats but have recently sat out elections or expressed openness to Republicans. The first step is introducing her to those voters outside her Miami community, the adviser said.

Mucarsel-Powell immigrated to the United States with her mother and three older sisters when she was 14 years old. Like many immigrants, she worked several jobs to keep her family economically afloat and has often said how only in America could she have a path to run and win national office. It’s a message she is likely to continue to lean on during her Senate campaign — describing herself as a “minimum-wage earning South American immigrant” — as she seeks to resonate among working-class communities.

Ten years after she emigrated to Miami, Mucarsel-Powell’s father was shot and killed outside his home by an armed criminal at a time when violence and instability continued to plague Ecuador and other Latin American countries.

Mucarsel-Powell is the second major Democrat to announce plans to challenge Scott for his Senate seat. Last month, retired Navy officer and former Republican Phil Ehr launched a Senate campaign, also criticizing Scott for past proposals, including one that would require Congress to reauthorize all laws every five years. Though his plan did not explicitly mention Social Security or Medicare, Democrats were quick to point out that the popular entitlement programs were established by law and could be at risk under Scott’s proposal.

Scott’s proposals were part of a broader plan released ahead of last year’s midterm elections, while he was the chairman of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm. His plan to “rescue America” also included a proposal for all Americans to pay some form of federal income tax — he noted that roughly half pay none — as well as other long-standing conservative projects, such as eliminating the Education Department and declaring that there are only two genders.

Parts of Scott’s plan swiftly drew criticism from several prominent Republicans, including a public dismissal by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said the Republican Party would “not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years.” Scott later unsuccessfully challenged McConnell for his minority leader position.

Democrats, including President Biden, continued to seize on Scott’s proposals, regularly invoking them to paint any GOP candidate as a threat to entitlement programs. Scott repeatedly argued that Democrats were mischaracterizing his plan, and he later amended it to say he was not targeting Social Security and Medicare and that his aim was to make able-bodied Americans work to receive public benefits.

“He wrote the plan that could take away the Social Security you worked and paid for,” Mucarsel-Powell said in her announcement video. “I wrote the bill to expand Medicare, not take it away, because I know my mom and many others depend on it.”

A former dean of Florida International University’s School of Medicine, Mucarsel-Powell also plans to lean on her credentials to draw contrasts with Scott on his health-care affordability record and abortion policies, charging that Scott would help institute a federal ban on abortion if reelected.

Still, any Democrat faces an uphill battle to win a statewide election in Florida, which has traditionally been considered a swing state but where Democrats have struggled in recent years. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) won the state by a nearly 20 percentage points last year in his reelection bid.

Republicans’ repeated wins have led many national Democratic organizations to reconsider Florida’s swing-state status and question whether it’s worth investing in such races. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has yet to signal whether it would invest in the race as it eyes a difficult electoral map and tries to protect a number of incumbents in swing and red states. Yet the committee has made a five-figure ad buy in the state against Scott’s Social Security and Medicare record.

John Morgan, a Democratic donor in Florida, said a recent conversation with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) suggested that Senate Democrats were supportive of Mucarsel-Powell’s candidacy. Schumer asked him what he thought about Mucarsel-Powell at the state dinner for India’s prime minister at the White House earlier this year.

Morgan said he told Schumer she was “excellent.” But Morgan also said she “has a very uphill battle in Florida.”

“Her good news is she’s running against Rick Scott, and the Dobbs decision I believe is a game changer all across the country,” Morgan added. He referred to the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last year that overturned a half-century of federal protections for abortion access, a ruling that has energized Democratic voters.

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