Carlos Curbelo and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell aren’t holding back.
Curbelo, a Republican congressman seeking to keep a Miami-to-Key West seat for a third term, and his Democratic opponent Mucarsel-Powell had their only English language debate Sunday on WPLG Local 10.
And though WPLG’s Michael Putney led off the debate with healthcare, Mucarsel-Powell went immediately on the attack, blasting a protest by Republicans and far-right activists against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi this week at a campaign event Mucarsel-Powell attended with Donna Shalala.
“This might be an opportunity to tell viewers about your healthcare program,” WPLG’s Glenna Milberg said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“I have and I will,” Mucarsel-Powell responded before continuing to attack Curbelo, noting that one of his former staffers was part of the protest where Republicans banged on doors, a move that drew condemnation from Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Steve Scalise, who was shot last year by a far-left activist.
Curbelo condemned the protest and said he had no connection to it, but also took a shot at Mucarsel-Powell for promoting a campaign event with Rep. Barbara Lee, a liberal member of Congress who praised Fidel Castro after his death in 2016. Lee’s scheduled appearance sparked the protest but she ended up as a no-show at the event.
“Barbara Lee was the only person who voted against U.S. action in Afghanistan after 9/11,” Curbelo said.
As Putney and Milberg attempted to move through a variety of policy issues like healthcare, taxes and guns, the debate careened from the protest attack to Curbelo attacking Mucarsel-Powell for “not working in three years” and Mucarsel-Powell attacking Curbelo for an attack ad against her that depicts a man holding a gun. Mucarsel-Powell said her son was watching baseball the other night when the ad came on, and it upset him.
Then the two candidates also sparred over Igor Kolomoisky, the Ukriaian oligarch who partially owned a Miami-based business where Mucarsel-Powell’s husband worked as a lawyer. The connection has been the source of attack ads against Mucarsel-Powell for weeks.
“We have nothing to do with this man,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “You’re desperate, you have nothing to run on.”
Beyond the attacks, Curbelo and Mucarsel-Powell’s policy stances offered little in the way of new information than what they’ve campaigned on for the past 18 months.
Mucarsel-Powell said that protecting Obamacare was her number one goal in office and that electing her would help ensure a Democratic majority that would put bills on the floor like universal background checks and a solution for young immigrants known as Dreamers who came to the country illegally with their parents when they were young.
Curbelo pitched himself as a voice of moderation in Washington, willing to work with both parties on various issues, and as someone who will buck party leaders to force votes on issues he thinks are important, like immigration and some forms of gun control.
The race has tightened in recent weeks as Mucarsel-Powell has used a fundraising advantage to spend millions on TV ads, mostly focused on healthcare, introducing herself to voters and her father’s tragic death due to gun violence. Curbelo has performed better than Republicans at the top of the ticket in his two previous elections and is one of the GOP’s hardest-working campaigners and fundraisers. Both national parties see the race as a key test of their strength in the upcoming midterm elections and are spending millions on TV ads.
But Sunday’s debate, the only opportunity for the two candidates to face off in English, will be remembered for the attacks.
While discussing taxes, Mucarsel-Powell said Curbelo benefited personally from the bill, and brought up his old lobbying firm which never disclosed its clients.
“You have a lobbying firm that is benefiting form the tax bill but we don’t know how much you are benefiting from it because you refuse to disclose it,” Mucarsel-Powell said in what was supposed to be a rebuttal just before a commercial break.
As the jingle for a commercial break began to play, Curbelo tried to sneak in one last response.
“She just said a blatant lie I don’t own any lobbying firms,” Curbelo said.