DemDaily: Florida’s US Senate Race Heats Up!

August 23, 2023

Democrats' hopes of retaking a Florida US Senate seat increased yesterday with the entry of former Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell as a challenger to incumbent Republican Senator Rick Scott.

“I don’t make any assumptions or underestimate how difficult it is going to be. 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.” - Florida Senate candidate Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D)

Landscape
Scott is one of 11 Republican Senators defending his seat in 2024, compared to 23 Democrats (including three independents) up for reelection in a presidential year that will also determine control of the United States Senate.

Florida has delivered its 29 electoral votes to the winning presidential candidate, regardless of party, in the last six presidential elections -- until 2020. Previously thought to be a necessity on the road to victory, Biden broke the record by winning the White House but losing Florida to Trump by 3.36%.

The Sunshine State has trended more Republican over the last two decades, most recently reelecting Senator Marco Rubio (R) to a third term by 16 points over Democratic challenger and former Congresswoman Val Demings in 2022. In the same year, conservative Governor Ron DeSantis, a contender for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, won reelection by 59.4% to 40% over former Democratic Congressman and Governor Charlie Crist.

Republicans
Rick Scott, a former governor who unseated incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson by less than 1% in 2018, is considered the most vulnerable GOP Senator up in 2024.

An attorney by trade, Scott amased a fortune as CEO and Chair of Columbia/Hospital Corporation of America before resigning in 1997 amid the largest health care fraud investigation in US history.

He subsequently founded venture capitalist firm Rick L. Scott Investments, and was a partner of George W. Bush as co-owner of the Texas Rangers. The wealthiest US Senator in Congress, the 70-year old's current networth is estimated in excess of $200 million.

Scott's first foray into politics was his 2010 run for Governor, in which he invested $75 million of his own money to beat former banking executive and state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink by 1.2%.

In his 2014 re-election campaign, Scott faced Charlie Christ, whom he had succeeded as Governor of Florida. Christ, who had served as a Republican Governor, but switched to the Democratic Party to run against Scott -- lost by 1%.

In 2016, Scott chaired a pro-Trump super PAC and Trump endorsed his successful 2018 Senate election bid. He served as Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) from 2021 to 2023, and briefly considered a presidential run before deciding to run for reelection to the Senate.

In addition to his razor-thin victories in all three of his statewide elections, this is the first time Scott will run in a presidential year when turnout is considerably higher.

Scott is considered vulnerable for his conservative and often controversial policies -- including a February 2023 plan to sunset all federal legislation, including Social Security and Medicare, every five years. He later backtracked his proposal.

He is being challenged for the GOP nomination by wealthy lawyer and former Assistant State Attorney Ken Gross.

Democrats
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell
 is the most prominent Democrat to announce for the race, following a heavy recruitment effort by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other national leaders who have also pledged their financial support -- in contrast to their lack of significant investment in the 2022 Democratic candidates.

Mucarsel-Powell, 52, immigrated to Miami, Florida with her mother and three sisters from Ecuador at the age of 14. She worked her way through college, earning a BA in political science from Pitzer College in 1992 and a Masters in international political economy from Claremont University in 1996.

She worked for several non-profits and as a development and academic administrator at Florida International University’s Colleges of Health and Medicine before becoming an associate dean at the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.

In 2018, Mucarsel-Powell became the first Ecuadorian American to be elected to the US Congress, unseating two-term Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo, 50.9% to 49.1% in Florida's 26th congressional district -- then based in Monroe County and the southwestern suburbs of Miami.

She was defeated for re-election in 2020, falling to Republican Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez by 3.4% of the vote.

Included among the dozen candidates who have filed paperwork for the 2024 US Senate Democratic primary are former Congressman Alan Grayson, who lost a 2022 comeback primary bid against now Congressman Maxwell Frost (D-CD10), and Navy veteran Phil Ehr, who unsuccessfully challenged Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-CD1) in 2020. Florida House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell (D), who also considered a run against Scott, announced on Monday that she will remain in the Legislature.

A July 5-10, 2023 Global Strategy Group survey of likely general election voters conducted for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) found that after voters heard “positive profiles” of both candidates, as well as attacks on both candidates, Mucarsel-Powell's bio led 47% to 43% over Scott's. Most notably, among respondents unaffiliated with a political party, 68% found Mucarsel-Powell's bio appealing vs. Scott's 59%, and among the state's Latino voters, that jumps to 79% for Mucarsel-Powell vs. 62% for Scott (MOE: +/-3.1%).

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Sources: Politico, NBC, CNN, Florida Politics, Wiki

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