The campaign season's thermostat is turned up during the sprint to November, and as the TV ads and yard signs spread like political kudzu, so too are the tactics the candidates employ. Like most campaigns closely battled, some contentious accusations are getting tossed about in the U.S. House race between seated Rep.Carlos Curbelo, the Republican, and his Democratic challenger, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.
With the national Democratic Party intent on swinging the two chambers of Congress in its favor, every seat is regarded as important. Curbelo’s position in particular has attracted attention because the region represented -- Florida’s 26th District, ranging from southwest Dade County south to Key West -- is a strong blue area. Curbelo is something of an anomaly: This district was strongly in favor of Hillary Clinton -- by +16 percent in the 2016 election -- and yet he is a two-time incumbent, with a double-digit victory in his last campaign.
Showing the knowledge of a savvy veteran, Curbelo is not accepting that his seat is secure. He has held a decent lead in projections, with one recent DCCC poll showing him with a seven-point lead -- and that was prior to his TV ad buys. Now he has begun targeting Mucarsel-Powell, and he is using some techniques that have a familiar, albeit left-leaning, feel to them.
Russia connections are always a hot-button subject hurled from the left, and currently the nation is gripped by the debate over inappropriate gripping, concerning the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process. Curbelo has found a way to turn both of these subjects against Mucarsel-Powell.
Given that our current climate is one in which any connection to Russia, no matter how tangential, is cause for accusations of underhandedness, then the fact Mucarsel’s husband is shown to have deep business interests with an oligarch has been brought out as a subject.
Initially reported in The Daily Beast, Mucarsel’s husband, Robert Powell, served as general counsel for companies owned in part by Igor Kolomoisky, a pro-Russia Ukrainian oligarch.
The Mucarsel campaign strove to distance her from any involvement, stating either that Robert is not running for office, and one spokesperson calling the connection to the oligarch a “stretch”. But what's good for the goose is good for the gander. We just endured a cycle in which political pundit David Horowitz was deemed an anti-black extremist, and he has hosted political conferences where Ron DeSantis spoke -- thus leading to political opponents declaring the GOP gubernatorial candidate a “racist” by extension.
A spouse working with Russians is less of a stretch. According to campaign financial records, Mucarsel declared her husband was the primary income earner, with the majority of his earnings coming from a trading company associated with Kolomoisky. In fact, over the past 10 years Powell has done work for at least four businesses that have direct ownership affiliations with the oligarch.
Next, perhaps as a response to an allegation lodged by Mucarsel about donations to his campaign, Curbelo has come out to accuse his opponent of accepting donations from an accused sexual predator. At issue is a donation from a political committee headed by California Congressman Tony Cardenas. Cardenas is currently being taken to court over an incident where it is alleged he molested a 16-year-old girl.
Cardenas is the chairman of BOLD PAC, a fundraising arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The charge is that accepting funds from the PAC chaired by a man under investigation for sexual harassment of a minor runs contrary to Mucarsel's statements. Just one week ago she declared, “We must always stand with victims of sexual violence and hold perpetrators accountable.”
Mucarsel accused Curbelo of financial impropriety in a similar fashion early this year. Her campaign noted that he received donations from Rep. Patrick Meehan, one of the members of Congress shown to have used taxpayer funds to defend against and/or settle sexual harassment claims. The turnabout seems fitting, because the cases are similarly based. (Of note as well: Curbelo was recently denied membership into the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.)
The other connection, of course, is that Democrats are currently in full throat regarding the prospects of Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh. A new accusation that welled up involves a woman claiming a sexual assault occurred in high school with a then 17-year-old Kavanaugh. The charge, while light on factual details -- the accuser cannot recall the year, the location, or the owners of the home where the alleged attack happened, and never reported the incident to authorities -- is being forwarded as very serious by Dems, who demand FBI involvement and state this disqualifies Kavanaugh.
Meanwhile a far more credible charge leveled at a Democrat is given much kinder treatment. Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign spokesman, Mike Hernandez, says of the Cardenas issue, “She’s waiting to learn more of the facts as the case develops.” Her use of the strident term “always stand with victims” seems rather fluid now.
It is a reminder of the stark differences of opinion held by the party regarding the two cases. In the SCOTUS hearing, the Democrats declare the accusation alone is important enough to be believed. However, when one of their own, in an important congressional seat up for re-election, faces substantial charges that have actually been brought to authorities and to a court, the Democrats are more reserved in their reaction.
With many national party leaders paying close attention to this race, Curbelo is showing he is willing to work intently even while playing with a lead. He is also showing Democrats that when it comes to their tried campaign methods, there is bi-partisanship with their application.
Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.