Florida Republican battles Trump tide in Clinton district

Florida Republican battles Trump tide in Clinton district
© Greg Nash

Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloThe Memo: GOP cringes at new Trump race controversy Trump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy Republicans can't exploit the left's climate extremism without a better idea MORE is battling to hold on to his Florida district against a Democrat who says it is time for voters to replace the two-term Republican after the failure of the Congress to create protections for “Dreamers.”

Curbelo was a key player behind a GOP rank-and-file insurrection earlier this year that sought to force a vote on the House floor on legislation to provide a path to citizenship for people who entered the country illegally as children.

The effort failed in the end, and his Democratic challenger, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, has cast it as a testament to Curbelo’s ineffectiveness. 

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Despite running in a district that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNAACP seeks to boost Black voter turnout in six states California Dems back Yang after he expresses disappointment over initial DNC lineup The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden picks Harris as running mate MORE took in 2016 — and in a cycle that is challenging for Republicans — Curbelo is a slight favorite in the race. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race in the 26th District, the third most Hispanic in Florida, as “lean Republican.”

“The voters in my community obviously know me and are familiar with my record independent of however they feel about any one party,” said Curbelo.

Mucarsel-Powell has a real shot at winning the district, however, and some recent polls have had her with the lead.

“He’s been completely ineffective when it comes to immigration reform,” says Mucarsel-Powell, who was born in Ecuador. “When it mattered the most and we came close to getting a good bill on the floor … he caved in to the most extreme Republicans in his party.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 68.5 percent of residents in the district are Hispanic. It also has the third most foreign-born residents in Florida.

Mucarsel-Powell has sought to tie Curbelo to President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district MORE, arguing that he has voted along party lines in 90 percent of his votes. A tally kept by the website FiveThirtyEight finds that Curbelo has voted with the president 83 percent of the time.

“For the past few years we all were waiting for a congress member to stand up to this administration,” she said, criticizing Curbelo’s votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and to pass tax reform. Curbelo also voted in favor of a GOP immigration compromise bill.

Curbelo says he is a centrist who votes in the interest of his district and that figures showing that he votes with his party a large percentage of the time include noncontroversial bills and procedural votes.

“The hard statistics show I’m the fourth most bipartisan member of the House,” he said.

Curbelo contrasted his record with former Rep. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantis DeSantis rules out 2024 White House run: 'Total garbage' US surpasses 5 million coronavirus cases The Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election MORE, the Republican who gave up his House seat after winning his party’s nomination to run for governor of Florida.

“I have different views on many issues than Ron does,” said Curbelo. “And if there’s anything for me to lament in this governor’s race is the two candidates who represent the extremes of the spectrum won [the primaries].”

DeSantis is running against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee.

According to ProPublica, a website that tracks congressional votes, Curbelo and DeSantis voted together 88 percent of the time in the current Congress, but they disagreed on 24 major votes.

That includes the vote on immigration reform, where DeSantis voted for a conservative bill that would not have created a special path to citizenship for Dreamers while Curbelo voted for the GOP compromise bill that included the path.

As seniors in high school, Curbelo and Gillum served together on the board of the Florida Association of Student Councils. Curbelo says he’s likely to vote for DeSantis, but he didn’t completely close the door on backing Gillum.

“I’m going to watch the debate. For right now I don’t anticipate abandoning Ron, but I’m going to watch the debates,” he said.

Mucarsel-Powell says Curbelo’s independence from Republican leadership is only skin deep.

She pointed to the compromise GOP bill, which Curbelo helped craft, and its hard-line stance on enforcement. The bill included a path to citizenship for up to 2 million Dreamers, but also increased funding for federal immigration enforcement and cut avenues of legal immigration to the United States.

“He talks a lot about illegal immigration and has a hard stance as it pertains to illegal immigration. I think that my community has been extremely concerned by this administration’s politics against immigrants,” said Mucarsel-Powell.

She said Curbelo in July lauded conditions at a center for underage immigration detainees in Homestead, Fla. At the time, Curbelo said “all of the needs” of the minors were being attended to.

State Sen. Annette Taddeo (D), who toured the facility with Curbelo, said “the staff is doing the best they can under the circumstances but it’s very clear that it’s a detention center,” according to the Miami Herald.

Curbelo, who favors a path to citizenship for all law-abiding undocumented immigrants in the country, said his support of enforcement does not contradict his position on immigration.

“I don’t have sympathy for criminals or gang members who are in the country illegally,” he said.

And the two candidates are trading swipes on issues beyond immigration, including Curbelo’s failed attempt to join the nominally bipartisan Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), which would almost certainly welcome Mucarsel-Powell as a Democrat were she to win.

In January, Curbelo was pressured by Mucarsel-Powell to return donations from a PAC run by former Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), who was removed from the House Ethics Committee after he was accused of using taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment case.

Curbelo then asked Mucarsel-Powell to return funds from the CHC’s campaign arm, Bold PAC, and from a personal PAC run by Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), head of Bold PAC. Cárdenas is under investigation for allegedly groping a minor in a car a decade ago. He has denied the charges.

“She made an issue of the Meehan fund. I thought at the time it was prudent to return them, yet she accepts funds from an accused child molester,” said Curbelo. “The second issue, is she enthusiastically supported by the bigots that kept me out of the CHC? Yeah, that’s true.”

In response, Mucarsel-Powell panned Curbelo’s record on women’s issues.

“I think it’s disingenuous that Curbelo is trying to use this as a personal issue as an attack against me … what we need to point out is that Curbelo has repeatedly voted against women’s issues,” she said.