By Jim Turner ©2023 The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Former U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, an immigrant born in Ecuador who served one term in Congress, entered the race Tuesday to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott in 2024.
The announcement made Mucarsel-Powell the top name in a Democratic field that includes former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson and Phil Ehr, a U.S. Navy veteran who once ran for Congress in a heavily Republican district in Northwest Florida.
“I’m an immigrant, a Latina, and a mother,” Mucarsel-Powell said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “I’m not afraid to take on anyone who doesn’t put Florida first. That means you, Rick Scott. That’s why I’m running for U.S. Senate.”
Scott’s campaign quickly dismissed Mucarsel-Powell as “another failed congressional candidate.”
“Former Congresswoman Mucarsel-Powell is a radical socialist who voted 100 percent of the time with Nancy Pelosi during her short tenure in Congress, which is why the voters of South Florida booted her out of office the first chance they got,” Scott campaign spokeswoman Priscilla Ivasco said in a statement. “Floridians already rejected her once and they will reject her again.”
Mucarsel-Powell narrowly defeated Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo in 2018 in Congressional District 26, which included southern Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys. She lost the seat in 2020 to Carlos Gimenez, then the mayor of Miami-Dade County.
Cook Political Report and the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics rate the U.S. Senate seat as likely to stay with Republicans in the 2024 election.
The Florida Democratic Party touted Mucarsel-Powell’s bid.
“Over the coming months, the Florida Democratic Party will make it clear why it’s past time to kick Rick Scott out of the Senate and replace him with a leader who will actually fight for the needs of Floridians,” state Democratic Chairwoman Nikki Fried said in a statement.
But Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Republican and longtime ally of Scott, expressed confidence that Mucarsel-Powell will be defeated.
“Calling it now: @ScottforFlorida will have a solid double-digit win over radical Biden puppet Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and I look forward to watching the look on his opponents’ faces over the next year as they accept defeat,” Patronis said in a post on X.
On Monday, Florida House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said she would not challenge Scott, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2018 after two terms as governor.
In a statement, Driskell said that while Scott has “spearheaded disastrous policies that have made Florida less affordable, less safe, and less free,” her “fight for Florida is right here at home.”
Earlier reports said Democrats had tried to recruit NBA legends Dwyane Wade and Grant Hill for the contest.
In a news release, Mucarsel-Powell pointed to a biography that included her family fleeing violence to come to the U.S. when she was 14, working her way through high school and college, earning a master’s degree in international political economy from Claremont Graduate University and professional experience such as serving as an associate dean of the Florida International University medical school.
While one of Scott’s first business ventures was a doughnut shop where he employed his mother, Mucarsel-Powell said that while in school she worked at a doughnut shop while her mother worked double shifts as a home health-care worker.
Mucarsel-Powell also contrasted her political stances with Scott.
“Now, democracy is at stake,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “Rick Scott is trying to raise taxes on our families, he wrote a plan to end Social Security and Medicare coverage, and is trying to strip away abortion rights. Rick Scott is a fraud, and in Florida we know it. It will take all of us working together to defeat him, but that’s when we’re at our best; and everywhere I go I can feel this desire for change.”
Scott’s campaign outlined attacks on Mucarsel-Powell, including saying she backed former President Barack Obama’s efforts to open relations with Cuba, and tried to tie her to a group of liberal Democratic congresswomen known as “the Squad.”
Mucarsel-Powell will need to raise money quickly. A fundraising email Tuesday morning set a goal of “$500,000” over the next 24 hours. The money would be split with the campaign of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
Scott, a former hospital company chief executive, dipped heavily into his personal wealth in his two successful runs for governor and his 2018 campaign that unseated Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
According to the Federal Election Commission, the Rick Scott for Florida campaign had $2.9 million on hand as of June 30.