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Carlos Gimenez Takes Florida's 26th Congressional District Back For Republicans

Emily Michot

The Associated Press has called Carlos Gimenez as the winner in the fight for the closely watched battleground Florida's 26th Congressional District.

Republican Carlos Gimenez has won victory over incumbent Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in one of the most hotly contested congressional seat races in Florida this election cycle, according to the Associated Press.

The results mark a significant victory for Florida Republicans.

Gimenez was born in Cuba and was a firefighter, fire chief and Miami-Dade County commissioner prior to being elected as county mayor in 2011. Mucarsel-Powell is an immigrant from Ecuador, and prior to being elected in 2018 she was an associate dean at Florida International University’s College of Health.

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Florida’s 26th District was created in 2013, and since then has flipped between Democrats and Republicans, with neither party holding a firm, sustained advantage. Democrat Joe Garcia was elected to one term in 2013. After that, Republican Carlos Curbelo won two terms in the district, ending with Democrat Mucarsel-Powell getting elected in 2018.

The district contains 161,749 registered Democrats, followed by 149,997 registered Republicans and 147,153 voters without any party affiliation, according to state records.

Gimenez's victory comes largely thanks to the sharp uptick in Republican turnout in the Miami-Dade County suburbs. That uptick has also likely flipped the neighboring 27th Congressional District, with Republican Maria Elvira Salazar poised to unseat incumbent Democrat Donna Shalala — according to the AP.

Notably, Gimenez was also ahead in Monroe County Tuesday night, which contains part of the district.

“South Florida is tired of the dysfunction in Washington and tonight they elected the perfect man in Carlos Gimenez to bring people together and get the job done,” said Dan Conston, the president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, in a statement. The group spent more than $4.1 million to help Gimenez in the race.

“A Cuban immigrant, former firefighter and successful Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Mayor Gimenez knows just what it takes to clean up Washington, rebuild our economy, and fight for middle class families,” said Conston.

As the outgoing mayor of Miami-Dade County, Gimenez has been one of the most visible public officials in South Florida throughout the pandemic, an unforeseeable situation that increased his name recognition, even in the Florida Keys in Monroe County.

That didn’t always help his campaign. During a late night rally held by President Trump Sunday, Republican Trump supporters booed when Gimenez’s name was mentioned, seemingly in opposition to emergency measures he took during the pandemic. The crowd chanted “open up” and “vote him out,” despite him being termed out as mayor.

For the congressional seat, Gimenez campaigned as being a pragmatic, moderate Republican, while painting Mucarsel Powell as an overly partisan liberal Democrat, a claim she denies. For her part, Mucarsel-Powell cast herself as the moderate who has worked across party lines in Congress, and cast Gimenez as too willing to please President Trump during his time as Miami-Dade mayor.

Gimenez publicly declared he would vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. That was used against him in the primary election by a Republican opponent, ironically painting Gimenez as not friendly enough with Trump.

Opponent Mucarsel-Powell has not yet conceded the race. On Tuesday night she released a statement citing "historic levels of turnout in Florida" and across the nation.

"What we are seeing now is our democratic process at work," she said. "I look forward to a final result when the votes have been counted and everyone’s voice has been heard."

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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