Carlos Curbelo Barely Leads Largely Unknown Democrat, DCCC Poll Shows

Rep. Carlos Curbelo
Rep. Carlos Curbelo Photo by Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Just how deep in trouble is Miami-area U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo? Long before national signs pointed toward a blue tsunami this fall, Democrats had already targeted him — an obvious choice since Hillary Clinton crushed Donald Trump in Curbelo's district by an eye-popping 16 points.

But Curbelo's one saving grace has been the hilarious incompetence of the Florida Democratic Party. While basically every Democrat with two pennies to rub together lined up to battle in the primary for retiring Rep. lleana Ros-Lehtinen's seat, Curbelo drew just one challenger: the largely unknown Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

The anti-Trump sentiment in South Florida might just be strong enough that it doesn't matter. At least that's what a new poll out this afternoon from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) suggests. Even though Mucarsel-Powell has basically zero name recognition and hasn't begun spending yet, the poll shows Curbelo with a narrow 45-40 percent lead.

"We’ve recruited and empowered Democratic candidates who fit their districts and have records of service to their communities and our country that resonate with voters," the DCCC crows in a release about the numbers.

Take those poll results with a national-deficit-size grain of salt: They're coming from an organization with an obvious bent toward pumping up Dem challengers. The DCCC says the results come from a mix of internal, campaign, and public polling that reached a minimum of 400 representative voters.

But it makes gut sense that Curbelo will have a legit fight on his hands this fall, even against a challenger who is essentially a generic Democrat at this point.

Curbelo has voted with Trump more than 82 percent of the time, according to 538's tracking — making him one of the biggest outliers in America in terms of his voting record versus the political leanings of his district.

Aside from his Trump backing, Curbelo has made some curious choices in the past six months. After staking his name to a supposedly ironclad promise not to back any budget that didn't include a permanent fix for Dreamers, Curbelo went ahead and voted for the GOP's $300 billion budget with no DACA replacement. (He pointed toward Paul Ryan's promise that a separate fix would come. It hasn't. And now Trump is threatening to throw every Dreamer out of the country.)

Curbelo also backed the GOP's extraordinarily unpopular tax cut package — a deal that just happened to substantially benefit his wife's business interests.

It's too early to tell if Curbelo will pay a price for his embrace of Trump's policies or his own missteps, and there's no question he'll have a major cash advantage. He's reported $2.2 million in receipts in his latest disclosures, while Mucarsel-Powell has only $416,000.

But DCCC's polls aside, it's clear Curbelo's district doesn't politically match up with his policies. We'll find out if that matters this fall at the polls.
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink

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