Cheering and clapping carried across the calm waters of Black Point Marina as Debbie Mucarsel-Powell defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in the Florida District 26 race.
Her victory increased the likelihood that Democrats would gain control of the U.S. House, something that, in fact, happened later that evening.
She ended the night with 51 percent of the vote. The tally ended Curbelo’s four years in Washington.
“We didn’t just win District 26.” said Mucarsel-Powell during her acceptance speech at the Cutler Bay restaurant. “We are taking a stand for all working families in America.”
The crowd chanted and cheered as Mucarsel-Powell touched on topics of healthcare, gun control and climate change.
“My mission now is to live up to the trust you gave to me,” she said.
Supporters stayed to talk with Mucarsel-Powel and to celebrate their win. Among them was Ryan Johnson, who described the victory as phenomenal.
At Curbelo’s campaign headquarters in Miami, supporters had Cuban-style roast pork, among other traditional Cuban dishes as they mingled. Some sat around a domino table eating pastelitos.
When Curbelo walked up to the podium with his wife and two daughters, his supporters cheered, yelling their love for him. His older daughter was in tears. The crowd gathered around him and clapped.
Curbelo appeared hopeful when he said in Spanish, “Tonight we are not making any excuses. We have to turn the page. We have to help heal the country. If continue to divide the country, we are all going to lose.”
Even with the defeat, music roared, and supporters thanked Curbelo for his work as a congressman.
“It was a very dirty campaign. It wasn’t about principles or goals,” said Ernesto Ackerman, a Venezuelan who has known Curbelo since 1999. “It was just dirty. It was just mud, mud, mud.”
The 38-year-old congressman was known as one of the few congressional Republicans who had frequently criticized President Donald Trump on several issues. He even compared Trump to the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
“The president should not be out there trying to pit one group of Americans against another. He should be trying to unite this country,” said Curbelo in an interview with MSNBC. “The president should not be out there trying to pit one group of Americans against another. He should be trying to unite this country.”
The Miami Herald called Curbelo one of the most bipartisan members of congress. Curbelo declared himself a voice of moderation in Washington, DC where his votes on issues are based on importance rather than party.
Curbelo has disagreed with Trump’s immigration policies, including the end of birthright citizenship and has condemned the president on several immigration issues. He once proposed a legislation executing a carbon tax in response to climate change, but it failed to pass the House. He wants to pass gun-control measures.
However, Curbelo helped draft and voted for the GOP tax bill, voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and to defund Planned Parenthood. According to FiveThirtyEight, Curbelo has actually voted in line with Trump’s position 82 percent of time.
Curbelo was born in Miami of Cuban-exile parents. He graduated from the University of Miami, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public administration. He served on the Miami-Dade school board from 2010 to 2015.
Curbelo ran for the 26th Congressional District in 2014 and was re-elected in 2016.
Everytown for Gun Safety, a national gun control group, endorsed Curbelo this year after he criticized the National Rifle Association. He was endorsed by conservative organization, such as, Associated Industries of Florida, Republican Main Street Partnership and ConservAmerica.
Mucarsel-Powell was born in Ecuador and grew up in Miami. She received her master’s in international political economy from Claremont Graduate University. In 2016, she ran for Florida state senate, losing to Anitere Flores.
Mucarsel-Powell focused on gun reform and the environment in her campaign, but her main focus was on healthcare and the Affordable Care Act. She was inspired to run for Congress after Curbelo voted against the act. She had the backing of Miami Herald, Planned Parenthood and 30 other Democratic and progressive organizations.
Mucarsel-Powell spent around $1 million on bilingual television and radio ads. She raised less than Curbelo overall, but outspent him. One of her ads focused on Curbelo’s vote last year to repeal the Affordable Care Act; they showed supporters saying, “Goodbye, Congressman Curbelo.”
Cuberlo had support from the Congressional Leadership Fund, whose ads tied Mucarsel-Powell’s husband to a Ukrainian oligarch accused of hiring contract killers and running fraudulent billion-dollar schemes. The ad attempted to tie Mucarsel-Powell to those accusations.
SCENES FROM ELECTION NIGHT
The House candidates are within a single percentage point of each other, causing a stir at Blackpoint Marina.
“I am cautiously optimistic,” said Anne Bailey, an organizer with NARAL Pro-Choice America, a political advocacy group.
Bailey came down from Washington to canvass and organize for Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Democratic governor candidate Andrew Gillum.
“People are ready for a change,” Bailey said of Mucarsel-Powell. “People see Debbie and they like her.”
— Steven Guillen
While eating a ham pastelito and waiting for election results, Alexa Garcia, 21, stood beside her friend Gaby Peolaz. After volunteering during her summer vacation to campaign for Cuberlo, she stood in front of his Miami campaign headquarters with a white campaign shirt.
“I think Curbelo’s stand on immigration is very important. Along with his willingness to act on climate change as a Republican, it’s not very common,” she said.
Garcia said that her generation and the one that follows will enact real change to the country. Curbelo earned Garcia’s vote after he proposed a legislation on the House floor in June trying to help immigration laws. Even though the legislation failed to pass, it gain support from both parties.
— Maria Gil and Maria Piñero
Jorge Suárez, owner of Chef’s Paella, was hired to cater Curbelo’s watch party because of his famous Cuban dishes.
Suaréz cooked a Cuban-style pork roast to encourage the Hispanic community to come out for Curbelo. He also dressed his assistant, Jaydervel Labrada, in an American flag apron and hat.
Suaréz has catered watch parties in previous elections, but in this one, he decided to donate a portion of the food on behalf of his company’s support for the Republican candidate.
“We are very excited to support Carlos Curbelo’s new ideas for the betterment of our economy and to put an end to contradictions,” he said.
— Maria Piñero
Jorge Cortina, 65, immigrated to American from Cuba 25 years ago. He and his wife, Gisela Cortina, came to Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s viewing party at his campaign headquarters in Miami to witness another win for Curbelo.
While sporting a white “Curbelo for Congress” baseball cap, Cortinas said in Spanish, “I see him and I see professionalism. I see a bipartisan man who has achieved many things in the four years he’s been in office.”
He voted for the Cuban-American Curbelo in 2014, 2016 and again this election. Cortinas said he will continue to vote for Curbelo for as long as his name is on the ballot.
“He has great ideas about immigration, the problem is that he alone cannot fix immigration, it has to be solved by [the administration],” he said.
— Maria Gil and Maria Piñero
At the Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D) watch party in Cutler Bay, Blackpoint Marina is alive with people eating seafood and staring at the TV hanging above the bar. The bartender runs back and forth serving patrons in suits and casual wear.
The television flashes blue and red graphics as numbers start to roll in. Mucarsel-Powell leads Florida’s U.S. House District 26 race with 51 percent. People yelp and clap with excitement.
At this moment, Andrew Gillum leads in the governor’s race with 51 percent. Rob DeSantis with a 48 percent. Bill Nelson is also ahead 51 percent to Rick Scott’s 48 percent.
— Steven Guillen