Debbie Mucarsel-Powell used a barrage of TV ads and a campaign focused on healthcare, Democrats’ single-most important issue, to defeat Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo on Tuesday night.
Murcarsel-Powell told her supporters during her victory speech that she would fight to protect and expand Obamacare, while also pushing for more humane immigration polices and climate change solutions. She pledged to hold the Trump administration “accountable.”
“This victory is for all of us,” she said, as the crowd cheered. “We didn’t just win the 26th congressional district, we have taken a stand for all the working families in South Florida.”
She added: “Only in this incredible country does an immigrant from Ecuador get elected to serve in the United States Congress.”
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Mucarsel-Powell’s victory is an achievement for Democrats around the country, who spent considerable resources over the past four years to oust one of the few GOP lawmakers in Washington willing to publicly rebuke the president. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent just under $7.2 million, in addition to Mucarsel-Powell’s seven-figure war chest, to hammer Curbelo for his vote to repeal Obamacare. While other members similar to Curbelo chose to retire instead of face the prospect of losing, Curbelo dug in, spending millions of dollars of his own with the aid of outside groups who spent more than a year on the ground in South Florida.
It wasn’t enough.
Mucarsel-Powell used a 3 percentage point lead in Miami-Dade, where the majority of the district’s voters live, to offset a deficit in the Florida Keys. She led by more than 3,000 votes with over 90 percent of precincts reporting across both counties.
Mucarsel-Powell’s victory is a signal that Curbelo’s independent brand of conservatism wasn’t enough to overcome the demographics of a district trending toward Democrats.
“When people started learning who I am, when they’ve gotten to know the work that I’ve done, I think that’s when they started paying attention,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “We have to fight for the soul of our country right now... we are sending a message to this administration that we will not tolerate hate, that we will not tolerate the attacks against immigrants, that we will not allow political violence.”
Mucarsel-Powell, a former associate dean at Florida International University, announced her run for Congress more than a year ago after Curbelo voted to repeal Obamacare in a district that contains more than 90,000 Obamacare recipients. She ended up beating a candidate who fashioned himself as a moderate voice and was seen by many national Republicans as a model for the future of the GOP.
But voters decided that Curbelo’s affiliation with the party of Trump was too much to overlook.
“This was a difficult campaign,” Curbelo said in his concession speech, with his wife and two daughters standing beside him. “We faced millions upon millions of dollars in negative attacks and spending but tonight was not a night for excuses... it’s also, mostly importantly, a night for healing.”
Curbelo was attempting to maintain control of a Miami-to-Key West seat that has long favored Democrats. Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton there by more than 16 percentage points in 2016 even though Curbelo won reelection by 12 points. The district will now switch party hands for the third time since 2012.
Mucarsel-Powell will head to Washington with zero experience as an elected official. She unsuccessfully ran for a Florida Senate seat in 2016 but has spent years working as a volunteer and organizer for Democratic candidates. An array of outside groups made unseating Curbelo a top priority and spent millions of dollars to defeat him after doing the same two years ago and coming up short.
The win also validates more than four years of heavy Democratic Party spending against Curbelo, one of the party’s best fundraisers and an experienced campaigner. Over the summer, Mucarsel-Powell trailed in the polls and her own party put out a survey that showed her trailing. But a TV blitz in the campaign’s final weeks was enough to up her name recognition and introduce her to a sufficient number of voters to give Democrats a crucial seat as they look to control the House of Representatives in the final two years of Trump’s first term in office.
Mucarsel-Powell has said she plans to vote for Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker if Democrats gain a majority in Washington and said that her top concern when she gets to Washington is affordable healthcare for all.
“My mission is to live up to the trust you have placed in me,” she said.