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Florida Latina Mucarsel-Powell grabs House seat for Dems, defeats Curbelo

Florida's 26th district is 70 percent Latino and had high rates of enrollment under the Affordable Care Act.
Image: Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Andrew Gillum
Debbie Mucarsel-PowellWilfredo Lee / AP

MIAMI — Debbie Mucarsel-Powell defeated Republican incumbent Carlos Curbelo in a hard fought race that pitted an Ecuadorian immigrant against a centrist incumbent in South Florida.

The race in Florida's District 26 was one of the battleground districts targeted early by Democrats in their quest to take control of the U.S. House. Hillary Clinton won the district by 16 percentage points in 2016.

Mucarsel-Powell, 47, came to the U.S. as a young girl from Ecuador. She started her career working at non-profits and is a former associate dean at Florida International University. She was among a group of political newcomers who were endorsed by former President Barack Obama.

Curbelo, 38, is Cuban-American and served two terms in the House. He is one of a few congressional Republicans who distanced himself from Trump on several issues, often criticizing him.

He opposed Trump from the beginning of the 2016 campaign, even comparing him to the late Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, and didn't vote for Trump.

One topic that Mucarsel-Powell zeroed in on during her campaign was Curbelo's 2017 vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. South Florida has had higher rates of new healthcare coverage under the ACA than other areas in the country.

“We have been talking to families every single day and I can tell you that what they're telling me is that they want to keep their access to healthcare, they want someone that is going to fight for them," Mucarsel-Powell said during a press call organized by Emily’s List, a political action committee that helps elect pro-choice Democratic female candidates to office and endorsed her candidacy.

Mucarsel-Powell targeted Curbelo with ads in both Spanish and English since early September telling voters that Curbelo voted against the ACA.

Florida’s 26th district, which is 70 percent Latino stretches from southwest Miami-Dade, all the way down to Key West and includes parts of the Everglades and the Gulf Coast.

Hillary Clinton won the district by more than 16 percentage points over Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential elections. But Curbelo won by 12 points the same year.