Meet a Competitive House Race: Florida 26th District (Carlos Curbelo vs. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell)

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Meet a Competitive House Race: Florida 26th District (Carlos Curbelo vs. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell)

Welcome to “Meet a Competitive House Race,” a new Paste feature in which we highlight—you guessed it—a competitive 2018 House race from somewhere in America. Between now and election day, we’ll hopefully hit them all. You can see a full list of other House races we’ve profiled at the bottom of this page.

What’s the deal with today’s district? Where is it?

We’re taking our talents to Miami today. Well, just south of it. Florida’s 26th district encompasses all of Monroe County and southwest Miami-Dade County, covering the southern tip of the state from the Atlantic coast to the Gulf of Mexico. Major areas within the district include the large Miami suburb of Homestead, Key West, the Florida Keys and the expansive Everglades National Park.

Who lives there? How do they vote?

Like many south Florida communities, the district boasts a high percentage of Hispanic residents, currently totaling 69 percent. Of the remainder, 17 percent are white and 11 percent are black. Past election results reflect this demographic split, as the 26th went Hillary Clinton’s way in 2016 by a 16-point margin. Monroe County tends to run more competitive than the decidedly blue Miami-Dade County. Monroe County voted for Trump by a slight margin in 2016, but only logged roughly 40,000 total voters in the last presidential race.

Is Trump going to screw the Republican?

He’s certainly done plenty to do so despite incumbent Carlos Curbelo’s efforts to distance himself in recent months.

What else?

Trump’s continual generalization of Hispanic communities, disastrous response to the storm ravaged island of Puerto Rico and concrete stance on controversial immigration reform have done very little to curry favor in areas with high Hispanic populations. Curbelo has been ringing the bipartisanship bell more recently, but his 81 percent record of voting in line with Trump could make it difficult for him to separate himself from the unpopular leader.

What’s up with the Republican(s)?

Republican incumbent Carlos Curbelo, currently in his second term representing the 26th, is known on the Hill as being one of the more moderate Republican voices. He has expressed support for same-sex marriage, proposed a ban on bump stocks following the Las Vegas shooting and stood as “one of the few GOP voices speaking out against Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement and his desire to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency.”

While Curbelo has worked to reach across the aisle, his positions on three major tenets of the Republican-led government’s agenda (healthcare, immigration and tax reform) do not ingratiate him with a large part of his district’s population. He attempted to soften his desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act by calling for a replacement rather than its elimination, and happily voted for the wildly unpopular tax bill, which included a late-added provision that benefited his wife’s business. Most notable is his stance on a new DACA deal. While he has stated that he would vote for protections for Dreamers, Curbelo said in 2017 that cosponsoring the DREAM act would “have little, if any, effect.” The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee criticized him over those remarks after he was quoted in February as saying “cosponsorship is the most important currency in the Capitol.”

What’s up with the Democrat(s)?

While there are five Dems listed as running against Curbelo, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell has emerged as the clear front-runner. An Ecuadorian-immigrant and non-profit consultant, Mucarsel-Powell entered the race following a encouraging showing in a losing bid for state Senate that expanded into more conservative regions of Florida. Since announcing her candidacy, she has garnered a large amount of endorsements from current Democratic representatives Pete Aguilar, Linda Sanchez and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She has also been able to gain the support of former Vice President Joe Biden in the last week.

While her campaign has focused on Curbelo’s record on healthcare, immigration and tax reform, Mucarsel-Powell has also utilized the close proximity to Parkland, FL to attack the incumbent on his efforts to pass extensive gun control laws. While Curbelo has introduced legislation that would minimally increase gun control, Mucarsel-Powell holds the position that more needs to be done, most powerfully noted in a campaign ad where she describes the shooting death of her father.

What do the polls say?

Most outlets are calling the race a toss-up. There aren’t many current polls, so, once again, campaign funds represent the best measuring stick. Curbelo holds a significant lead in terms of cash on hand, but Mucarsel-Powell has pulled closer in recent months, raising similar amounts to Curbelo’s in campaign donations in the first quarter of 2018. That result shows a definite surge in support for the challenger.

What’s weird about the district?

With both prospective candidates having Hispanic heritage, campaigning within this district will probably focus on swaying the Hispanic vote more so than the vast majority of others across the country. The race could come down to who speaks more to the demographic, which holds a vast majority in the district, and Trump’s unpopularity will obviously play an enormous role.

Both are highly likely to emerge from the Aug. 28 primary, meaning that they will have more time than other candidates to focus on one another through the summer.

Give me a prediction

Based on Curbelo’s position on major issues and high rate of voting alongside the president’s desires, and the district’s propensity for swaying blue despite keeping a moderate Republican in office for the past four years, Mucarsel-Powell has a legitimate shot at unseating Curbelo. We’ll take the Dem.

Past races:

California 48th: Dana Rohrbacher, vs. some Democrat, eventually

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