If Democrats are going to win back the House, they’ll need to flip at least 24 seats currently held by Republican lawmakers to members of their party. To do that, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is putting their support behind promising challengers ahead of the fall midterm elections — two of them Latinas.
Among the 33 candidates that are a part of Red to Blue, a competitive program from the DCCC that offers top contenders organizational and fundraising support to help them continue to run fierce campaigns, are Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a congressional candidate in South Florida, and Xochitl Torres Small, a first-time candidate campaigning in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
“Candidates are our best asset, and we will continue to do everything possible to help them build strong campaign infrastructures, energize the grassroots, and raise the resources needed to spread their message,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), chairman of the DCCC, said in a statement.
In one of the most closely watched congressional races in the country, Mucarsel-Powell is vying to unseat Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in Florida’s 26th Congressional District, which represents all of Monroe County, including Key West and the Everglades National Park, as well as parts of southwest Miami-Dade County.
“The person we have now representing the district’s values does not align with the families of this district. He has voted against families in the community by voting against health care and background checks for guns and passing a tax plan that helps companies instead of hard-working Americans,” Mucarsel-Powell, 46, told Fierce.
Born in Ecuador, she, along with her single mother and three sisters, moved to southern California when she was 14, later relocating to South Florida at 24 — the same year her father was killed by gun violence back in her home country.
In the Sunshine State, Mucarsel-Powell spent several years working in various nonprofit organizations, including in the environmental justice arena with Zoo Miami Foundation and the Coral Restoration Foundation, as well as education and health, working at the College of Health at Florida International University and, since it opened, the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.
In 2016, Mucarsel-Powell challenged state Sen. Anitere Flores, a veteran Republican lawmaker, in redrawn Senate District 39. A first-time candidate with little name recognition, Mucarsel-Powell was defeated, but she walked away leaving a good impression with local Democratic operatives and better equipped to tackle another race.
Among her priorities are health care, to which she has worked to expand to families in South Florida for many years; education, long fighting against the increasing power of charter schools in Tallahassee; immigration, calling for an expedited path to citizenship for Dreamers and their families; the environment; referring to South Florida as the “ground zero for climate change;” gun safety, pushing for specific bills to reduce gun violence, an issue that has impacted her personally; as well as the economy and tax reform.
“Flipping that seat is crucial for so many thousands of people in Florida’s District 26. I’m fighting that struggle so that they can once again have and reach opportunities my family had when I came and what children now don’t have access to, health care and education,” she said. “I’ve been working in this district for 20 years, improving the lives of so many families. My commitment has always been to this community and it always will be, regardless of what happens in November.”
Over in Southern New Mexico, Torres Small feels similarly. The Mexican-American candidate hopes to fill a vacant seat left by Republican Rep. Steve Pearce, who is running for governor, in her state’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Las Cruces, Roswell and the southern fourth of Albuquerque.
“I was excited and looking for a candidate to support,” Torres Small tells us of the moment she decided to run,” “but as I kept waiting, I thought, what if the person I’m waiting for is me? That’s when I took the plunge.”
As a native of Las Cruces, she has witnessed firsthand how her community has been ignored by Washington and wants to expand opportunities in education, infrastructure, job training and health care. “We are not getting the opportunity to reach our best potential,” she says, noting that families, including expectant mothers, often have to drive three hours away to obtain the health care they require.
A water attorney and former staffer for Sen. Tom Udall, Torres Small has experience working in the public, private and nonprofit sectors, acquiring a combination of skills and understanding that she believes would make her a better representative.
“It shows the combination of experiences we need to have, and resources we need to have, to best serve rural communities,” she said. “In Southern New Mexico, a large employer is the government, so we have to know how to make it efficient. There are also strong private players, and we need to bring in more business, so knowing how to work with businesses is important. With nonprofits, there are so many tools to work with people who need a chance, so to collaborate with nonprofits is essential, too.”
While the primary elections in New Mexico are being held in June, 66 percent of delegates for the Democratic Party there have already put their support behind Torres Small. Should the first-time candidate win, she says she hopes to bring small-town problem-solving to Washington.
“Growing up in a relatively small community, I always knew that in order to build solutions, you have to involve everyone. I know what it’s like to work with everyone, even if I disagree with them, and Washington isn’t doing that,” she said. “I think it’s important to flip the district from red to blue, but only if we are working together.”