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Two tight congressional races with Latina Democratic incumbents draw national attention

Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in Florida and Xochitl Torres Small in New Mexico flipped their districts from Republican to Democrat in 2018.
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M.
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M.AP

Two of the most closely watched congressional races in the country involve incumbent Latinas who were “firsts” to get elected to their seats and are now facing tight battles.

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., was the first South American-born member of Congress and Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., was the first woman and Latina elected in her district. Both were elected in 2018 when the number of Latina women in the House of Representatives increased by five.

In 2020, Latinos make up a pivotal voting group and the largest minority group in the electorate, at 32 million.

The Latino Victory Fund, a progressive Latino political action committee, is launching an ad blitz of over half a million dollars, including digital and television ads, to support Mucarsel-Powell and Torres Small. It's part of the group's efforts to boost Latina candidates, including their #FirstLatinas program, aimed at recruiting female Hispanic candidates.

It's hoping it can motivate voters, especially women, to cast ballots.


Mucarsel-Powell is being challenged in one of the most competitive races in the country by the Latino mayor of Miami Dade County.

Since the seat was created in 2012, it has switched between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.

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

Mucarsel-Powell was appointed to the House Judiciary Committee and sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, as well.

In an interview with NBC News, she said health care continues to be a top issue, especially now with the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on Latinos and the Trump administration's aim to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.

“Many people have lost access to health care because they have lost their jobs,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “they haven’t been able to go back to work, they’re struggling, they’re scared of facing eviction.”

Florida has the highest enrollment of the Affordable Care Act and President Donald Trump wants to repeal it and replace it with a new plan that still has not been announced.

Mucarsel-Powell said the economy is a major concern for her constituents, as well. “Economic relief is very much a huge concern for the families living in Florida,” she said.

Before being elected to Congress, she spent years working at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work at Florida International University.

Her opponent, Mayor Carlos Giménez, is the chief administrator of the state’s most populous county for almost a decade and has been in public service for 40 years. Giménez has been endorsed by President Donald Trump.

The county was at the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak in Florida over the summer and Giménez has imposed stricter measures for the county than what has happened in other parts of the state under the more relaxed approach of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

He said the No. 1 issue is the economy. “The last thing we want to do is increase taxes. We need to incentivize businesses to come back from foreign countries, so we can restore the greatest economy of my lifetime,” he said in an interview.

If elected, he said, he would focus on working in a bipartisan way. “We need to work together and not point fingers at one another,” he said.

Giménez also said he is not against "Obamacare." But he said it’s the right of every American to challenge laws in court.

The Cook Political Report recently changed the seat’s rating from “toss-up” to “lean Democratic.” Hillary Clinton won the district in 2016 by 16 points, but Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo won re-election that year by 12 points. Mucarsel-Powell went on to defeat Curbelo by two points in 2018.

New Mexico–02

In New Mexico’s second district, first-termer Torres Small is being challenged by Republican Yvette Herrell. In 2018, Torres Small was among 42 Democrats who helped the party win the House.

Torres Small, 35, a water rights lawyer whose grandparents were farm workers from Mexico, beat Herrell by less than 2 percentage points in 2018.

Torres Small is casting herself as a moderate Democrat who will work with the Republicans. During a debate in September, she stressed “bipartisanship” and challenged her own party.

The district covers a large area roughly the size of Pennsylvania but only has a population of about 600,000. It shares a border with Mexico and almost 50 percent of eligible voters in the district are Latino.

The seat was previously occupied by the Republican Rep. Steve Pearce who ran for governor and lost in 2018.

Herrell, 56, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, has served four terms in the state Legislature and is also a former businesswoman. She has been endorsed by Trump.

She opposes the measures taken by Democratic state officials to curb the rising coronavirus, saying it should be left to local communities.

The district includes counties that produce most of New Mexico’s oil, and Herrell is pledging to support the oil industry — but so has Torres Small, who distanced herself from Biden in a tweet that drew national attention after he said during last week’s debate he would transition from the oil industry.

“I disagree with VP Biden's statement tonight. Energy is part of the backbone of New Mexico’s economy,” she wrote. “We need to work together to promote responsible energy production and stop climate change, not demonize a single industry.”

The Cook Political Report ranks the district as a toss-up.

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