'Debbie is Screwed': Democrats Debate Whether Biden-Endorsed Mucarsel-Powell Can Clinch Party Nomination

'Debbie is Screwed': Democrats Debate Whether Biden-Endorsed Mucarsel-Powell Can Clinch Party Nomination

Some Democrats cast doubt on Debbie Mucarsel-Powell's nomination chances as two new candidates qualify for the Florida Senate race against Rick Scott

Liv Caputo
Liv Caputo
April 29, 2024

TALLAHASSEE, FL—When Debbie Mucarsel-Powell announced she was running for U.S. Senate last year, the former Miami Congresswoman had no Democratic challengers to worry about, making the party nomination appear all but guaranteed.

Now, it’s more complicated.

Nine other Democrats have thrown their hats in the ring now that qualifying for the race ended Friday, including former Congressman Alan Grayson and rocket scientist Stanley Campbell, who could hamper her path to the nomination on Aug. 20th.

Grayson, independently wealthy, has strong progressive roots, while Campbell—also possessing a small fortune—is a leading Black candidate in a primary where 29 percent of the registered voters are African American. 

Meanwhile, Mucarsel-Powell, a Latina, is lasered in on Hispanic voters, and on Monday she released a Spanish-language web ad accusing incumbent Republican Senator Rick Scott of destroying freedom. 

But as Mucarsel-Powell looks to the general election against Scott, political insiders say she might not be able to ignore her primary challengers for long or focus too exclusively on Hispanics, who comprise only 18 percent of the Democratic voter rolls. And her hopes to maximize turnout in Florida’s most populous county, Miami-Dade, could also prove to be tricky.

"I have strong doubts that Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s Senate race is going to drive voters to turnout in the primary —it's not," Democratic pollster Fernand Amandi told The Floridian, noting the county has one of the worst turnout rates in the state in Democratic primaries.

Amandi, who worked on the research, strategy, and messaging for Barack Obama’s Hispanic outreach initiatives in 2008 and 2012, said it would be a “miracle” for turnout to exceed 30 percent in a county that averages an abysmal 14-17 percent in Democratic primaries.

"No one's going to come and vote for the Senate race in August by itself,” he said, explaining the main turnout drive will be the district’s Mayoral race scheduled the same month. 

"Debbie's Screwed".

Nikki Barnes—a campaign staffer and former Democratic National Convention member—pointed to Mucarsel-Powell losing her Congressional seat in 2020 after just one term to Republican Carlos Gimenez, questioning, “For me up here in North Florida, I look at that and say 'hmm, your stronghold is supposed to be the Latino community down there, and you can't win them for your reelection?”

"Debbie has a problem," Barnes said. She claimed that Grayson, who is white, could rally rural Northern counties as Campbell gathers the minority and veteran vote—effectively dispatching Mucarsel-Powell.

While northern rural counties have a smaller population than counties like Miami-Dade, their turnout can be upwards of 50%-80% in primaries. Because of this, Barnes says, if Miami-Dade polls at their usual percentage come August, then “Debbie’s screwed.”

Meanwhile, Eric Johnson, the Chief of Staff for the 2016 Patrick Murphy campaign that demolished Grayson in the Senate primary, wholly disagrees with the notion that Grayson could play any part in harming Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign.

“Alan Grayson has not shown himself to run a significant or even a serious campaign in the last several elections,” Johnson told The Floridian, explaining that Grayson ran for statewide office twice after his loss to Murphy—losing both times.

“I don’t think Grayson represents a change in the dynamic in the race for her at all,” he said, noting he was unsure if Campbell could pull in enough votes to edge out the former Congresswoman. “At this point, Mucarsel-Powell still appears to be a significant frontrunner.”

"I Am Going to Beat Rick Scott"

To add to the demographic dilemmas stacking up against Mucarsel-Powell, Alan Grayson swept northern, rural counties during his failed 2016 bid for U.S. Senator against Patrick Murphy. Though he lost, Barnes believes it wouldn't be hard for him to "reactivate" the counties he won in 2016.

“Grayson in 2016 targeted where he saw hotly contested local races, and he picked those counties up—they turned out and voted for him," she said.

 "If Miami-Dade voters turn out poorly, Debbie's screwed because places like Jacksonville and Tallahassee, with a larger number of black voters, are likely going to lean toward Stanley because he's using the FAMU network to get his name out there."

Mucarsel-Powell is a one-term Congresswoman who represented the heavily Latino area of District 26 in South Florida. A Latina herself, she has been highly involved with the growing community, earning an endorsement from the Latino Victory Fund last month.

Campbell, brother of 2-Live Crew rapper Luther Campbell, is a former Navy pilot who graduated from an HBCU based in Tallahassee. When The Floridian asked him how he felt about Grayson's presence in the race, he responded:

"I think it creates a real race. I definitely think he brings a lot more experience, knowledge, and gravitas to be able to sit in the Senate than Debbie—she just needs to do a little bit more life-living," he said. "This is just above her pay grade...But we're going to have a great race, and I look forward to her running, Alan running, and anyone else that wants to run.”

Campbell hopes to repeat 2018 gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum’s successes in the Democratic primary when he maximized black turnout and cinched the race amidst a crowded field. Last week, he raised the issue of race when President Biden did not invite Campbell to a Tampa event, and then publicly endorsed Mucarsel-Powell on stage in front of the FAMU graduate. 

"When we win, we expect them all to get onboard for us to beat Rick Scott," Campbell added. "And I am going to beat Rick Scott."

Any Democrat beating Rick Scott—who pushed out a three-term incumbent Democrat by over 10,000 votes in 2018— for his Senate seat will be a tall task. Republicans lead Democrats in voter registrations by a staggering 900,000 margin, a trend that exploded after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a 2022 bill into law removing inactive voters from voter lists.

Campbell says his strategy for dealing with his opponents will be targeting key demographics of the Florida population, such as veterans, black Americans, Haitians, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Cubans—a large sect of Mucarsel-Powell's base.

Grayson, meanwhile, says he is more focused on registering the "four million unregistered Democrats" in Florida than "slicing and dicing people geographically."

"At this point, nobody knows either one of them among the electorate," Grayson told The Floridian, claiming poor name ID for both Campbell and Mucarsel-Powell. "I'm more thinking about what it takes for me or any other Democrat to win statewide in November, and the answer is we have to register Democratic voters,"

"Looking at the field here, is there anybody else who's running for this position who's ever accomplished anything concrete? I passed more laws than any other member of Congress and I was the only member who raised most of his funds from small donors," said Grayson, who served six years in office.

Mucarsel-Powell’s team declined to comment on this story.

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Liv Caputo

Liv Caputo

Livia Caputo is a senior at Florida State University, working on a major in Criminology, and a triple minor in Psychology, Communications, and German. She has been working on a journalism career for the past year, and hopes to become a successful reporter after graduation. Her work has been cited in Fox News, the New York Post, and the Daily Mail

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