In the first glimpse of political fundraising in the COVID-19 era, Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell outraised her likely Republican opponent.
The race for the 26th Congressional District will be one of the most competitive districts in Florida in November. Mucarsel-Powell leaked out a victory in 2018 against incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who is now the NBC 6 political analyst. The district includes much of southwest Miami-Dade County and goes down through the Florida Keys.
From January through March, Mucarsel-Powell raised $742,000. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who announced he was running against Mucarsel-Powell in late January, raised $415,000.
Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign manager Andrew Markoff says the fundraising numbers are signals her constituents approve of her work during this crisis “keeping South Floridans safe, ensuring they have access to healthcare, and getting money into their hands as fast as possible to help stabilize the economy.”
“The strength of our campaign is proof that South Floridians know how critical it is to re-elect Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, because she will always fight for them,” said Markoff.
In Congress, Mucarsel-Powell has helped move federal resources to South Florida to deal with the pandemic.
Rep. Mucarsel-Powell now has more than $2.1 million in the bank to compete against $410,000 for Gimenez.
In the August Republican primary, Gimenez will face county fire lieutenant Omar Blanco and restaurant chain owner Irina Vilarino. Many expect Gimenez to come out of the primary because of an endorsement from President Donald Trump and the connections and visibility that comes with being the top officeholder in Florida’s largest county.
“Mayor Gimenez is focused on the public health crisis at hand and remains focused on helping working families emerge from this crisis," Gimenez's campaign said in a statement. "There will be time for politics later but raising more than 410k while having limited time as a candidate is a clear sign the Mayor will have all the resources he needs for a winning campaign this fall.”
The good and bad for Gimenez
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has up-ended the political landscape across America. Part of lower fundraising numbers for Gimenez could be his late start in January, his self-imposed two-week quarantine after coming into contact with someone positive of COVID-19, and his cancellation of 17 campaign events.
“The nature of political fundraising has utterly and completely been destroyed by the COVID pandemic,” said Fernand Amandi, a political science professor at the University of Miami. “A lot of this activity would have been through events and one-on-one press the flesh meetings.”
Amandi says Miami-Dade County usually has plenty of political cash to throw around both locally and nationally. In 2016, when Gimenez ran for his second four-year term as county mayor, he raised more than $7 million. Many donors might still want to get access to someone who is still the Mayor for half a year. So far, his day-to-day duties dealing with the pandemic has hobbled his fundraising effort.
But the pandemic could also deliver something else for Gimenez: attention.
As top executive of the county, he is making the top county decisions when it comes to public health, resources, and strategy against the virus. Because of that, he is ever present at local and state press conferences. Even the emergency phone alerts to “Stay Safe at Home” have his name on them.
“Which, in some ways, are priceless as mayor of the county. He’s able to dominate coverage to himself and his name in a way that practically nobody is able to do besides maybe the Governor,” said Amandi.
National Democratic groups aiming to hold on to their majority in the lower chamber are expected to pump money to support their newly one seat and freshman Congresswoman. Political committees cannot be coordinated with campaigns per law.
The political arm of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team, the House Majority PAC, plans on spending $3.3 million in the Miami media market on TV ads.
Republican groups hoping to flip the House back to Republican control are expected to follow suit but have since stayed away for the most part. The President Trump-allied America First Action PAC announced $18.5 million in TV ads in Tampa and Orlando but not Miami yet. The Congressional Leadership Fund, the political arm of the Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, announced television buys this week but the Miami-area was not on the initial list.
Republicans need to flip 17 seats to take back control of the lower chamber.
Details on which groups were major supporters to the candidates this quarter were not immediately available because the website for the Federal Election Commission was having trouble loading Wednesday evening.
The nation’s response to the coronavirus will dominate the rest of the year and the November election. No matter what Congressional candidates raise, do, and say, it could all come down to how the Trump Administration responds to the crisis and if voters approve of it or not, according to Amandi.
“You can have the greatest Republican candidate running against the worst Democratic candidate and it might not make a difference if it’s a referendum on Trump.”