'A Heavy Lift': Democrats Weigh Former Congresswoman's Chances Against 'Ruthless' Rick Scott

'A Heavy Lift': Democrats Weigh Former Congresswoman's Chances Against 'Ruthless' Rick Scott

Democrats debate the ability for a liberal candidate to beat out Republican giant Rick Scott in the increasingly red state

Liv Caputo
Liv Caputo
May 2, 2024

TALLAHASSEE, FL—As Florida Republicans strengthen their grasp over the state amidst a looming U.S. Senate election, a Presidential election, and an abortion amendment plaguing political conversations, the question forefront in Democrats’ minds is can they take back Florida?

The verdict: unlikely, but not impossible.

Brad Howard, President of Corcoran Street Group—a lobbying organization—and Chief of Staff to former Rep. Stephanie Murphy, called incumbent Republican Senator Rick Scott “cutthroat” and “ruthless”, with just one goal in mind: winning the 2024 Senate Election. 

His emerging opponent, former Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, however, has a “real ability to win”, Howard says.

But is that true? Democratic political analyst and data expert Dave Trotter doesn’t think so.

Republicans hold a 900,000 voter registration lead over Democrats, a staggering number expounded by the state’s Governor signing a 2022 bill into law removing inactive voters from voter rolls.

While party registration doesn’t equate to voter choice in partisan elections, “it kind of does,” Trotter says.

Trotter told The Floridian that a Democrat flipping a Senate seat—as Mucarsel-Powell hopes to do to former Governor Scott on November 5th—is a near mathematical impossibility.

“That's where Florida Democrats are now: let's pick our best losing candidate. Mathematically, there's technically no way a Democrat can win the state of Florida right now, though that can change in the future,” Trotter said, explaining that voter registration numbers are strongly correlated to a voter’s choice of candidate.

However, other political insiders say there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for Mucarsel-Powell. The key? NPAs, moderate Republicans, and abortion.

“A Democrat just can’t win”

Mucarsel-Powell is a one-term Congresswoman who represented the heavily Latino area of District 26 in South Florida. A Latina herself, she has lasered in on Hispanic voters, earning an endorsement from the Latino Victory Fund last month and earlier this week, she revealed a Spanish-language web ad accusing incumbent Republican Senator Rick Scott of destroying freedom. 

The majority of Hispanic voters are registered NPAs. Trotter tells us that as of late, they have begun to trend more Republican than Democrat, despite Republicans having the fewest number of Hispanic voters overall amongst the three main party groups.

He continued, saying that due to recent Republican-leaning trends, even if Democrats had 100 percent of their voters come out, Republicans would need just 76% of their voters to show up to win.

“A Democrat just can’t win,” he said. “Democrats are losing voters—since the Presidential Primary till March 30th, Democrats have lost around 12,000 voters while Republicans have gained 28,000.”

Kevin Wagner, a pollster and professor of political science at FAU, told The Floridian that it is still very early to forecast a winner for the Senate election, though he thinks Mucarsel-Powell may still be able to pull off a win.

He explained that not only will she need a higher turnout than has been seen in the past, but she will also have to “pull from the independents and maybe even some from the moderate Republicans as well.”

“It's possible, but it's a heavy lift,” he added.

In mid-April, Wagner polled 865 people on a Mucarsel-Powell v. Scott matchup, finding that Scott had 51% support compared to Mucarsel’s just 35% in the trial heat. He had a nearly 2-to-1 lead among male voters, a marginal lead among women, and a lead in all age cohorts.

Will it be “Roadblock Rick” or "too radical for the Sunshine State"?

Aside from demographics, Democrats are also hoping that landmark current events such as border security and abortion will push out turnout and potentially swing NPAs or moderate Republicans to a more progressive side.

Lauren Chou, spokesperson for the Mucarsel-Powell campaign, told The Floridian in a statement that Scott’s “weak leadership” has endangered national security and the lives of women.

“The contrast between Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Rick Scott couldn’t be clearer – just look at what’s happened in this state under Scott’s weak leadership. Right now, we’re facing an affordability crisis that started under Rick Scott as governor, an abortion ban with hardly any exceptions that will put millions of women’s lives at risk, and an ongoing crisis at the border because roadblock Rick wanted to play politics with our national security,” she wrote, citing a six-week abortion ban going into effect Wednesday, Scott voting down an initially bipartisan border security bill, and South Florida earning the top spot for worst rental affordability in the nation.

Rick Scott is only out to serve his own extreme and dangerous agenda. That’s why Florida voters are more than ready to retire him this November.”

In November, Floridians will have the opportunity to vote for a constitutional amendment protecting abortion access until fetal viability—around 24 weeks. This amendment would override the state’s newly implemented six-week ban that provides exceptions until 15 weeks for rape or incest under the condition of documented proof.

This monumental amendment, which Mucarsel-Powell has championed throughout her campaign, has the potential to increase intensity and turnout for Florida voters, Wagner says.

However, the passion for a progressive issue does not often translate into voting for a Democratic candidate—which would not necessarily bode well for Mucarsel-Powell in November.

“That intensity can matter, especially if the election is close enough, though it’s quite possible that you'll get somebody who votes for the abortion amendment but might still choose to vote for a Republican candidate,” Wagner said. 

To win, Mucarsel-Powell will need a high turnout on the ballot initiative and to be able to poach some moderate Republicans and NPAs in favor of the measure to her side, which is “not impossible, but as I said earlier—a heavy lift,” Wagner added.

Scott spokesman Jonathan Turcotte, meanwhile, told The Floridian in a statement that Mucarsel-Powell is simply “too radical” to be in office, sniping at her one-term stint in Congress before losing out to Republican Carlos Gimenez in 2020.

“We will continue to remind Floridians that she voted for Democrats’ open borders agenda every chance she got. She voted with Nancy Pelosi 100% of the time, Ilhan Omar 94% of the time, and AOC 93% of the time,” he wrote, accusing Mucarsel-Powell of a far-left agenda. “It’s no wonder Floridians rejected her after one term in Congress. She’s too radical for the Sunshine State.”

“It is political malpractice to write off the state of Florida”

A key behind-the-scenes factor in every election is money spent, earned, and kept on hand. In this department, Scott holds a startling lead, enjoying over $1 million more cash on hand for his campaign than Mucarsel-Powell.

Scott’s abundant wealth is one that Howard said was derived from “corrupt measures”, referring to the Senator’s rags to riches story espousing from his leading of one of the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chains—Columbia/HCA—before it ousted him to settle the highest health care fraud fine in history, a staggering $1.7 billion.

This monetary gap is one that Howard says poses an immediate threat to Mucarsel-Powell’s bid for first the primary nomination, which will be decided on August 20th, and then the November general election.

“I want to caution Democrats here, because every dollar Debbie has to spend to win her primary, is a dollar that we can't put toward the general,” Howard said, pointing to the nine other candidates vying for the nomination, two of whom have accused Mucarsel-Powell of both poor name ID and a lack of “gravitas” to beat Scott and become a U.S. Senator.

"This is going to be a very hard campaign, and I really encourage Democrats to get behind Debbie Mucarsell-Powell immediately,” he added, explaining that after the primary, there are less than two months to campaign before early voting begins on October 26th.

He turned to the final question: can Mucarsel-Powell beat Scott?

"Absolutely...the thirst for winning is rampant in the Democratic Party right now, because we believe our policies are better, our vision is better, and the Republicans are taking Florida in a very dangerous and wrong direction,” Howard said.

“It is political malpractice for any party to write off the state of Florida because it is so diverse, it is so large, it is so fast-growing that it's going to take a lot of work and a lot of effort.”

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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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