Florida Dems Hope Fourth Time Is A Charm Against Rick Scott And His Bank Account

TAMPA, Fla. — As Democrats gear up for yet another run against Florida Republican Rick Scott, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell hopes the fourth time is a charm.

In three statewide campaigns over eight years, Democrats have racked up three maddeningly close losses against the former governor and current U.S. senator.

“I know I can beat Rick Scott,” the former congresswoman from Miami told a room of supporters this week. “This is a real unique opportunity that we have here in Florida, and we can’t miss this opportunity.”

She and other Democrats have a whole list of reasons why they can finally beat Scott this time. In his three previous general election races, his margins have gotten progressively thinner: from 1.2 percent against banker Alex Sink in the 2010 governor’s race to 1 percent against former governor and Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist in 2014 to just two-tenths of a percent against then-incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018.

They point out that Scott has never had to run in a presidential election year, when Democrats in Florida have done a better job turning out their voters than in midterm years. And they argue that Scott is uniquely vulnerable this time, given his public support for both strict abortion limits as well as a phaseout of Social Security and Medicare.

“These are really losing issues for him,” said Nikki Fried, chair of the Florida Democratic Party. “The issues important to Floridians today are going to harm him.”

On top of that, Mucarsel-Powell’s life story — born in Ecuador, put herself through college, fluent in Spanish — not only make her a perfect fit for a race against Scott, but her presence near the top of the ticket will help Democratic candidates across Florida, Fried said.

“We have a really good opportunity to get into the Hispanic communities,” she said.

If Scott truly is in trouble, though, his campaign is not displaying any signs of it. The former head of Columbia/HCA made his hundreds of millions of dollars running the for-profit hospital chain, which by 2003 had paid a record $1.7 billion in fines for Medicare fraud after coming under federal investigation. Scott personally claimed the Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself 75 times during his deposition with investigators — a fact that every opponent since Republican Bill McCollum in the 2010 primary has used against him without success.

Chris Hartline, who has been working for Scott since his time as governor and is now with the reelection campaign, said Scott and his team are taking the race seriously, but disagree that Florida’s new six-week abortion ban and the constitutional amendment question on the ballot that would restore abortion rights in Florida present a particularly grave threat to him. Nor are they concerned about a second ballot question that would legalize marijuana, and the voters it might draw to the polls.

“It’s possible that both amendments pass and that (presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald) Trump and Rick Scott and a lot of down-ballot candidates have big wins,” he said.

Organizing Around Abortion

On a two-day swing through Tampa earlier this week, Mucarsel-Powell has gathered a dozen activists at the Hillsborough County Democratic Party office a few miles north of downtown on the topic of abortion rights.

On one wall is an enlarged quotation from President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech this year when he quoted the Supreme Court Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade: “‘Women are not without electoral or political power.’ You’re about to realize just how much you were right about that.”

Just below is a framed pink poster ― “Protect Freedom: Vote Yes on Amendment 4” – decorated with a pair of Biden-style aviator sunglasses.

If one single issue can lift someone who lost reelection after a single term in Congress to the point of beating an incumbent senator in Florida, it could well be abortion. While Florida’s voting population has produced Republican governors and a solid GOP legislature for nearly a full generation now, it has never been strongly anti-abortion.

Now, with a six-week ban newly on the books and a constitutional amendment that would undo it on the November ballot, Mucarsel-Powell believes she can ride the hoped-for surge of voter enthusiasm for the amendment into an upset win over Scott.

“This is a fundamental civil right for a woman,” she told her guests, who included leaders of local party committees as well as advocates who try to arrange for Florida women to have abortions in other states like North Carolina.

“I remember what it was like, pre-Roe versus Wade,” said Gail Gibson, an officer with the South Tampa Democratic Club.

While Scott had nothing to do with the six-week ban, which was signed into law by his successor Ron DeSantis, he did approve a 2015 bill that required women in Florida to wait at least 24 hours to obtain an abortion after deciding to have one. What’s more, he told an Orlando TV station in April that he would have signed the six-week ban, too, had he been governor.

Mucarsel-Powell told the activists that she often muses about organizing a march the length of the state to rally women to action.

“I’m ready to march from Key West to Tallahassee and have women join along the way,” she said. “We’ll call it the El Camino. The El Camino for women.”

A Nine-Figure Senate Race

Some seasoned Democratic consultants in Florida, though, remain less sanguine about Mucarsel-Powell’s chances.

One, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that as good a contrast as Mucarsel-Powell, 53, might present against the perennially awkward Scott, who is 71, he retains the advantage that has pulled him through each of his elections: an effectively bottomless bank account. In his three campaigns thus far, Scott has spent $150 million of his own money.

If things start looking bad in any of Florida’s 10 television markets — including one of the nation’s most expensive in Miami — Scott has both the ability and the proven willingness to write a seven-figure check to make things better, the consultant said.

A recent imbroglio on the issue of in vitro fertilization provides an example. Scott, like all but two Republican senators, voted against a bill last week creating a national right to the procedure. Almost immediately afterward, he introduced a new television ad proclaiming his support for IVF as part of a previously reserved seven-figure buy.

Mucarsel-Powell and her staff doggedly point to the apparent hypocrisy — but the reality, the consultant said, was that far more voters in Florida will see the ad than will likely learn that he voted against the legislation.

“It’s good to be able to stroke a check,” the consultant said.

“Scott voted against a bill last week creating a national right to in vitro fertilization. Almost immediately afterward, he introduced a new television ad proclaiming his support for IVF as part of a previously reserved seven-figure buy.”

A second consultant, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said beating Scott would likely take $100 million in a state whose size and population and wildly disparate demographics by region still require loads of expensive television advertising.

“I just don’t see where that $100 million comes from,” the second consultant said, particularly when there are Senate races in other states that Democrats must win to retain control of the chamber, like Montana, Nevada and Ohio.

Hartline, Scott’s campaign adviser, said he agreed that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and other outside groups are not likely to help Mucarsel-Powell. As to her campaign’s charge of hypocrisy on IVF, Hartline said those types of voting decisions happen all the time in Congress. “He voted no on the Democrat bill and supported a different version of that bill. Not uncommon,” he said.

In an interview with HuffPost, Mucarsel-Powell said that Scott’s fundamental problem is that voters in Florida already know him. “They know him, and because they know him so well, they don’t want to vote for him,” she said. “So a lot of that work has already been done for me. Now, what I need to do is make sure that I have the resources to be in front of Floridians that don’t know me yet, so that they can get to know me and I can earn their trust and their vote.”

And that, she said, will not require $100 million. “I don’t need all the money that Rick Scott has,” she said. “I know that I need a certain amount to make sure we beat him.”

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