Miami’s ‘sisterhood’ of Democrats makes a closing argument focused on healthcare

Democrats Donna Shalala, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Mary Barzee Flores gather at a South Dade church on Saturday, November 3rd to talk healthcare.
Democrats Donna Shalala, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Mary Barzee Flores gather at a South Dade church on Saturday, November 3rd to talk healthcare. Miami Herald

Zero men grabbed the microphone at a rally in front of the Community Bible Baptist Church in South Dade on Saturday.

In a year where Democrats are hoping that an uptick of women candidates can spur a blue wave across the country, Miami’s three women running for Congress — Donna Shalala, Mary Barzee Flores and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell — stood together to make their closing argument to voters and activists.

“It’s been a long road for all of us and I’ve been talking about this sisterhood that we’ve developed, Mary, Donna and I because even though we come from different background and experiences we share the same goals,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “We have to fight for the soul of our country right now.”

Democrats are hoping to send an all-female Miami-Dade delegation to Washington next year, part of 197 female candidates across the country running for the U.S. House and Senate. Their message mirrored the thousands of TV commercials being run across South Florida in the closing weeks of the campaign highlighting healthcare as the most important issue on the ballot this year, after Republicans tried and failed to repeal Obamacare during the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“It’s the year of the woman and look, you know all the issues Democrats stand for,” Shalala said. “Healthcare is a woman’s issue because it’s often the women in the family who determines who goes to the doctor and usually kick their significant other to go. And so eliminating preexisting conditions means that [Republicans] are eliminating health insurance, it’s as simple as that.”

South Florida is home to the largest concentration of Obamacare recipients in the country, and incumbent Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart voted to repeal the law last year, though the effort fell one vote short of passing the U.S. Senate.

Barzee Flores said that Trump’s recent push on immigration — he’s ordered the U.S. military to the border as a caravan of migrants makes its way through Mexico and has said he wants to change birthright citizenship via executive order — is meant to distract voters from healthcare.

“I think that the Republicans are so fearful that Democrats are going to take the House that they are just throwing out explosions for distractions,” Barzee Flores said. “That’s what this caravan, fear-mongering distraction is what it is.”

The trio of congressional candidates addressed about 50 voters and activists together, handing the microphone off to one another after state Sen. Annette Taddeo warmed up the crowd. Shalala is favored to win reelection on Tuesday against GOP opponent Maria Elvira Salazar, while Barzee Flores is an underdog against Diaz-Balart and Mucarsel-Powell’s race against Curbelo is a tossup. If Democrats win all three races on Tuesday night, it will be an early signal that Democrats are poised to make sweeping gains in the House of Representatives, where they need to flip 23 seats to gain a majority.

But the messaging has taken a turn in the past week. While Democrats are continuing to talk about healthcare, Curbelo, Diaz-Balart and Salazar have been forced to respond to Trump’s immigration proposals. Curbelo and Diaz-Balart said the Constitution is clear that anyone born in the U.S. is a citizen, but Salazar said this week that the 14th Amendment “needs to be reviewed.”

“The Constitution says very clearly that those that are born here are citizens, but we need to see to what extent,” Salazar said.

Mucarsel-Powell said she hasn’t read any news about the president’s immigration policy goals over the past week, choosing instead to focus on her closing argument to voters.

“I’ve been focusing so much on the voters in my community I haven’t even read the news,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “I want to be very zoned in on my message to my voters. I’m trying not to be on social media as much. It’s like a marathon, that last three miles that you know you just need to get through the finish line.”

And Barzee Flores, who was wearing an orange “Elect Women” pin and black combat boots, led a “fired up and ready to vote” chant after hammering Republicans for trying to repeal Obamacare.

“The differences in the parties could not be clearer,” Barzee Flores said.

Saturday’s event was a subdued affair compared to former President Barack Obama’s visit to Wynwood on Friday, but was the latest in what has been a series of joint appearances throughout the campaign by Shalala, Barzee Flores and Mucarsel-Powell. If all three win, they would likely join Democrats Frederica Wilson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Washington, ending a chapter of South Florida politics dominated by Republican Cuban-American lawmakers.

“There’s a sisterhood that we’ve developed by working hard together to get our message out,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “We’re excited about the possibility of working together. Imagine the power and endless possibilities of us working together as a union.”

Alex Daugherty, @alextdaugherty, 202-383-6049