Perhaps no state in the country has dealt Democrats bigger electoral blows over the past decade than Florida. In 2016, the Sunshine State proved the harbinger of disaster for Hillary Clinton's presidential bid, then proceeded to cause Democrats heartburn in every successive cycle since.
In 2018, then-rising Democratic star Andrew Gillum lost the gubernatorial race to GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis while Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson suffered a narrow defeat to former Florida Gov. Rick Scott in a race rife with ballot irregularities.
That year also supercharged the idea that Florida Democrats had a "Hispanic problem," which ultimately fueled an over-simplified national narrative about a complex constituency that is anything but monolithic. But in Florida specifically, Democratic under-performance among Latino voters resulted from flagging turnout among Latino Democrats of non-Cuban origin while Cuban exiles helped propel DeSantis and Scott to victory.
"We see turnout dipping outside the Cuban bloc. And we need to fix it,” Ricky Junquera, then-vice chair of the Miami-Dade Democrats, told Politico Magazine a month after Democrats' twin statewide losses in 2018. But the situation only continued to deteriorate for Democrats, with Joe Biden losing Florida in 2020 by a greater margin than Clinton four years earlier, and DeSantis virtually wiping the floor in 2022 with perennial candidate and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist.
Few people felt the change in Democratic fortunes more acutely than former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, whose Miami-area district swung from favoring Clinton by roughly 4 points in '16 to choosing Trump by 6 points four years later. In 2018, smack dab in the middle of that transformation, Mucarsel-Powell pulled off an upset win, flipping the swingy 26th Congressional District from red to blue only to lose it again two years later.
This cycle, Senate Democrats, keen to land a candidate who could help shore up their biggest vulnerability in statewide races, view Mucarsel-Powell’s hardscrabble political education in Miami-Dade as an asset. In August, after Mucarsel-Powell announced she would jump into the contest to unseat Scott, the party moved quickly to help clear her path to the nomination.
After all, who better to recapture the Latino vote against multimillionaire corporatist Rick Scott than Florida Democrats' first Latina, Spanish-speaking candidate for Senate, an Ecuadorian immigrant who worked her way from a minimum-wage job to the halls of Congress?
Rather than having her entire campaign translated into Spanish, Mucarsel-Powell is "able to directly communicate with her community, and that's powerful," the candidate's communications director, Lauren Chou, told Daily Kos in a recent interview.
Mucarsel-Powell's overarching focus, said Chou, is "protecting the opportunities that let her get to where she is in life." In today's world, with the ballooning costs of necessities like housing and education, Mucarsel-Powell's up-by-the-boostraps biography would be nearly impossible to replicate.
"We should be in the business of expanding opportunities” for Floridians, said Chou.
Mucarsel-Powell's personal story, as compelling as it is, gets even better when it's matched up against the politician she hopes to unseat.
Scott isn't just rich, he devoted much of the '22 midterm cycle to promoting and then downplaying an 11-point plan in which he pledged to phase out Social Security and Medicare while proposing a tax hike for the tens of millions of people too poor to pay federal income tax.
"All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount," Scott wrote in the original plan he released in February 2022. "Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax."
Scott's Rescue America platform was such a polling disaster that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell repeatedly shot it down.
Earlier this year, McConnell even questioned whether Scott shot himself in the foot with his own constituency by proposing to sunset Social Security and Medicare.
"I think it will be a challenge for [Scott] to deal with this in his own re-election in Florida, a state with more elderly people than any other state in America," McConnell told reporters in February.
On that point, the Mucarsel-Powell campaign agrees. Florida is second only to California in terms of the number of residents who receive Social Security benefits.
“It's malpractice as a senator to go against the needs of your constituents," Chou told Daily Kos.
Team Mucarsel-Powell views Scott's wealth as an insurmountable barrier to him relating to the needs of his constituents.
“He's never going to be able to understand what it means to rely on Social Security," said Chou, "he's not waiting on Social Security in order to make ends meet."
Scott isn't particularly popular to begin with. A University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Lab survey released last month put Scott 10 points underwater, with just 39% of voters viewing him favorably while 49% view him unfavorably.
Mucarsel-Powell was 8 points underwater in the same poll, 22% to 30%, but roughly half of voters (48%) also didn't know who she was.
The poll was brutal for Biden, however, with just 34% holding a favorable opinion of him compared to 62% viewing him unfavorably.
Asked if Mucarsel-Powell would campaign with Biden in the state, Chou didn’t reject the possibility out of hand, but added, “We’re focused on making this about Florida. This is about holding Rick Scott accountable.”
It's our last episode of the year and we wanted to talk about what we are thankful for. It turns out that Republican disarray and ineptitude topped our list. Join us to count the ways!