A Hotly Contested House District But Neither Candidate Lives There

Carlos Curbelo, right, smiles after announcing winning Florida's 26th Congressional District Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2014 in Miami. (AP Photo/The Miami Herald, Carl Juste) MAGS OUTCarl Juste / AP

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By Alex Seitz-Wald

WASHINGTON - In one of the most important congressional races in the country, neither of the likely candidates live in the district.

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo represents a stretch of South Florida that voted for Hillary Clinton by 16 percentage points last year, making it the most Democratic-leaning district currently held by a Republican up for reelection. He's considered one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the country next year.

The Miami-area will be a major battleground for control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections, and Florida’s 26th District is at the top of analysts’ watch-lists.

On Wednesday, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell jumped into the race, giving Curbelo his first strong Democratic challenger.

Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell announces she is running against Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo in Miami on Aug. 2.Jose A. Iglesias / Zuma Press

Democrats see the Ecuador-born non-profit executive as strong fit for a district where seven-in-10 residents are Hispanic and four-in-10 were born outside the U.S. Mucarsel-Powell impressed Democratic officials last year when she challenged a veteran Republican state senator who represents part of Curbelo’s district, falling short but out-performing expectations.

There’s just one catch - Mucarsel-Powell doesn’t live in the district. But then again neither does Curbelo.

As the Miami Herald reported, Mucarsel-Powell briefly switched her voter registration to a rental home in the Florida Keys during her state Senate campaign in order be inside that district. She even taunted her then-opponent, who also lived outside the district, saying on Twitter, "My opponent can't vote for herself... Why should the voters of [Senate District 39?]"

After the election, Mucarsel-Powell changed her registration back to her Miami-area home, which is outside Curbelo’s district.

Curbelo, meanwhile, has lived about a mile outside his own district since the Florida Supreme Court forced a redraw of the state’s congressional boundaries in 2015 after a lawsuit from voting rights groups.

This week, Curbelo blocked on Twitter a local progressive activist who mocked the congressman for living outside his district, according to the Miami New Times.

There is no law requiring congressmen to live inside their district - just the state they represent. Several lawmakers live outside the area they represent, often because of boundary changes due to the decennial redistricting process or from legal challenges.

But as Jon Ossoff can attest, it can be a real political headache. The Democrat lost a high-profile congressional special election in Georgia this summer after unrelenting GOP attacks on his outside-the-district residency.

Fortunately - or unfortunately - for both Curbelo and Mucarsel-Powell, neither will be able to do much with the issue.