Former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Former Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell jumped into the 2024 Florida Senate race.
She’s aiming to unseat Rick Scott, who always eked out narrow wins in his general election contests.
But Scott will be running in a presidential year, when Florida Republicans could have a considerable edge.
Sen. Rick Scott of Florida has eked out narrow victories in every general election race of his political career.
When the Republican first ran for governor in 2010, he secured a 1.2-point win over Democrat Alex Sink. In 2014, Scott defeated former Gov. Charlie Crist by 1 point. And in 2018, when Scott won a squeaker against veteran Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, he prevailed by 0.1% — or roughly 10,000 votes out of 8.19 million ballots cast.
But as it currently stands, Scott is in a strong position to win next year’s Florida Senate race, as the state in recent years has shifted from a political battleground into one dominated by former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
In 2020, Trump won Florida by 3 points against now-President Joe Biden, and DeSantis romped to a 19-point reelection victory against Crist last fall, solidifying the state’s red tint. And as Trump and DeSantis compete for the GOP presidential nomination, the state will be continue to be the nexus of political energy for the party.
So where does that leave Florida Democrats as they look toward 2024?
On Tuesday, former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, an Ecuadorian American immigrant who represented a Miami-anchored swing district from 2019 to 2021, announced that she was jumping into the Democratic primary to take on Scott.
Mucarsel-Powell has the sort of profile that state and national Democrats crave.
She previously represented a chunk of Miami-Dade County, a onetime stronghold for the party which in recent cycles has shifted dramatically to the GOP. And as a Latina, she could potentially energize Hispanic voters in a way that has bedeviled Democrats in recent years.
But for all of Mucarsel-Powell’s strengths, she’ll have to introduce herself to voters outside of South Florida against a well-known candidate who can easily self-fund and who is a dogged campaigner in his own right.
‘I don’t … underestimate how difficult it is going to be’
In Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign announcement, she sought to paint Scott — a former chief executive officer of the Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corporation — as someone who would gut Social Security and Medicaid and back a national abortion ban.
“Ya no más,” she said in Spanish, which translates to “no more,” and added, “I’ve already fought guys like Rick Scott, and beat them.”
But in an interview with Politico, Mucarsel-Powell acknowledged that the race would be a tough one.
“I don’t make any assumptions or underestimate how difficult it is going to be,” the former congresswoman told the outlet. “This is a divided country. It’s a divided state.”
“But what I have realized, what I have learned is that when you listen to Floridians across the state and you put their interests first, no amount of money is going to stop them from sending the right person to serve them,” she added.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott speaks during a news conference following the GOP weekly policy luncheon on Capitol Hill on September 20, 2022.
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
Mucarsel-Powell will almost surely hit Scott on policy grounds and bring up his “Rescue America” plan, a conservative tax proposal that the senator said last year would get every American to pay some form of federal income tax “to have skin in the game.” Such a proposal would represent a tax increase to the roughly 50 percent of Americans who currently pay no federal income taxes because they either don’t make enough to have income tax liability or they receive various tax credits.
Leading Senate Republicans largely distanced themselves from the proposal last year, as they saw it as an opening for Democrats to attack their candidates. (Scott later updated his plan to state that “able-bodied Americans under 60, who do not have young children or incapacitated dependents, should work.”)
But a key test will be whether or not Mucarsel-Powell can rally independents leery of Scott’s most conservative legislative proposals to remain competitive in the race.
Republicans feel confident in their chances
Among Florida Republicans, the reaction to Mucarsel-Powell’s candidacy was one of disdain.
The Scott campaign in a statement referred to the former congresswoman a “radical puppet” who was chosen by Biden to run for the seat.
Carlos Giménez — the former mayor of Miami-Dade County who defeated Mucarsel-Powell in 2020 — tweeted on Tuesday that his onetime opponent was a “wannabe Squad Member” whose policies are “wrong for the State of Florida.”
And Scott Hartline, a Scott aide, tweeted that Mucarsel-Powell had little name recognition.
“The only place in South Florida where this is huge news is the Mucarsel-Powell household,” he wrote. “Everyone else in South Florida is asking the same question: ‘who?'”
Scott will be running in a year when either Trump or DeSantis could potentially lead the Republican ticket, which would almost certainly give him some down-ballot coattails.
But despite the recent Republican orientation of the state, Scott still has never won over a large share of the electorate, even in 2010 and 2014, which were strong years for the GOP nationally.
And with Scott serving as boogeyman among many Democrats across the country, Mucarsel-Powell shouldn’t have much trouble raising money, which — if she becomes the nominee — would keep her viable in a state with multiple media markets and an incumbent with a large bank account.