Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a former congresswoman looking to unseat Florida Sen. Rick Scott (R), compared the Jan. 6, 2021, riot on the Capitol to attacks on democracy in Latin American countries.
Ecuador-born Mucarsel-Powell, the first member of Congress born in South America, fled her birth country as a teenager with her family in 1985.
“As a South American immigrant with family still in Latin America, I’ve seen the effects of authoritarian regimes firsthand, and the fight to protect democracy at home and abroad is personal to me,” she told The Hill.
“Like so many immigrants in Florida, I came to the United States in search of the safety and stability of American democracy,” the former lawmaker added. “We’ve seen democracies attacked abroad, and I’ve watched as spineless leaders have remained silent in the face of authoritarians – but I never expected that to happen here.”
Mucarsel-Powell is in a crowded primary, though she’s posted the highest fundraising numbers of any Democrat so far.
While Scott is also facing primary challengers, he is widely expected to retain the Republican nomination and is the favorite to win the general election. But, he is perceived as the closest thing to a vulnerable GOP Senate incumbent.
Scott’s campaign did not wish to provide comment.
Mucarsel-Powell served one term representing Florida’s southernmost district, which had been notorious for flipping parties, but she lost to Rep. Carlos Giménez (R) in 2020, when Republicans made massive gains in South Florida.
That election cycle ended on Jan. 6, 2021, with the certification of President Biden’s win following the attack on the Capitol.
Since then, political divisions have grown, Republicans have won a House majority, former President Trump has taken a seemingly insurmountable lead in the GOP presidential race and campaign rhetoric has heightened, particularly against immigrants.
Trump has added references to immigration “poisoning the blood of this country” to his stump speech, drawing criticism and comparisons to former Nazi leader Adolf Hitler from the left.
Those comparisons have drawn mostly eyerolls from Trump allies, who see the left as grasping at straws to demonize the former president, though some like Giménez have softly pushed back at the rhetoric.
“Rick Scott has remained silent as Donald Trump echoed Hitler’s rhetoric,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “He defended Trump’s involvement in the January 6th insurrection.”
The former representative, who is investing heavily and early to reach Florida’s different Hispanic groups, compared his behavior to the regimes of Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela.
“By choosing to put party before country and standing with Donald Trump, Rick Scott is standing with dictators that destroy freedom and democracy like we’ve seen in Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela,” she said. “Rick Scott is a threat to democracy, and we have to stand strong against him and these attacks.”
Republicans have had success painting Democrats in South Florida as sympathetic to those left-leaning dictatorships, but Mucarsel-Powell is using her personal experience with Latin American authoritarianism as a shield against those accusations.
“My story is like the story of so many Latinos that have come here to work hard and look for opportunities. They’re looking, actually, for safety. Many Latinos have fled political violence,” she told The Hill. “And then they come here and then they find themselves living in a country where the rise of violence continues.”
Mucarsel-Powell, whose first language is Spanish, is also making a point of appearing on Spanish-language news radio on a daily basis, tapping into the heart of South Florida’s political scene.
There, she’s been leveling attacks commonly used against Scott — including by his primary opponents — but reaching an audience that’s usually segregated from such direct contact with statewide candidates.
The Senate hopeful believes her early and bilingual Hispanic outreach is the key that will unlock Florida for Democrats after two disastrous campaign cycles.
Throughout his political career, Scott has been lambasted by attacks on his fortune’s origin, a settlement after a complex fraud case involving the company he ran, Columbia/HCA, once the country’s largest health care company.
Mucarsel Powell called that chapter “the largest Medicare fraud ever committed in the history of this country.”
Scott’s also drawn fire for his opposition to public health care programs like Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, and has publicly butted heads with GOP leadership, even challenging Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
But Scott has proven resilient to political broadsides.
Mucarsel-Powell wants to crack that code with a bilingual delivery of attacks on Scott, her personal story, and an anti-extremism pitch.
“I’ve done everything I can to work with Republicans to serve the people of Florida. I did that as it pertained to Everglades restoration funding,” she said. “I did a lot of work with [Rep.] Brian Mast [R-Fla], trying to protect our clean water here in the state of Florida, [former Rep.] Francis Rooney [R-Fla.].”
“And always, always [I] will sit down and be willing to work with whomever wants to work, to reduce the cost of living, to help families here in Florida thrive,” Mucarsel-Powell added. “We can’t continue to have people leaving our state because they’re scared, because they can’t afford to live here.”
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