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Curbelo draws Democratic challenger in swing Florida district

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@patriciamazzei @alextdaugherty

Months after Democrats began calling him a top national target, Carlos Curbelo has drawn a serious 2018 challenger.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who ran a stronger-than-expected state Senate campaign in 2016, will run for Congress. She plans to hold a news conference announcing her candidacy Wednesday.

“It’s shocking that the people in Washington are trying to strip healthcare from millions of Americans,” Mucarsel-Powell told the Miami Herald in an interview Monday, taking a jab at Curbelo. “The person that I’m running against voted for Trumpcare.”

She claimed Curbelo “has voted more than 86 percent of the time with Trump,” but also insisted: “I don’t want to focus my entire energy on what’s happening with the president.”

The bilingual Mucarsel-Powell, 46, was born in Ecuador, where she lived until she was 14. That’s when she and her single mother and three sisters moved to southern California. Mucarsel-Powell followed a sister to South Florida in 1996.

Now married with a stepdaughter, a daughter and a son, Mucarsel-Powell lives in Pinecrest, which is outside the 26th congressional district, a stretch of Westchester to Key West. She rents property in the Florida Keys, she said. Curbelo lives about a mile from the district’s boundaries in West Kendall.

After years of working in various nonprofit organizations, at ZooMiami and for Florida International University, Mucarsel-Powell opened a consulting firm on strategic planning.

“I’ve spent my entire life in nonprofits trying to bring change, positive change,” she said. “People are really charged. They’re angry. They’re frustrated. They want change.”

For months, national Democrats have labeled Curbelo a top target, citing his district’s Democratic-leaning makeup. It favors Democrats by 6 percentage points, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index, making Curbelo’s district the most Democratic in the country currently held by a Republican. Last year, Hillary Clinton bested Trump in the district by 16 points.

But Curbelo defeated Democrat Joe Garcia by 12 points, a 28-point swing showing Curbelo’s crossover appeal among Democrats and independents. He’s also a prolific fundraiser who had $1.1 million in his campaign account as of June 30 and consistently posts among the highest fundraising hauls of House members in both parties. Mucarsel-Powell said she expects to have to raise at least $4 million to compete.

Curbelo’s support in May for the American Health Care Act, House Republicans’ proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, was political manna for Democratic Party leaders, who see the vote as one of Curbelo’s biggest electoral weaknesses in a district where 92,500 people get health insurance through Obamacare — one of the highest rates in the country. Republicans have already vowed to spend millions of dollars defending Curbelo and other Republicans in competitive districts who backed the legislation.

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