MIAMI — Debbie Mucarsel-Powell has a problem that's rare for a Democrat this year — the Floridian and former college administrator is running against a Republican incumbent who not only accepts that climate change is happening but has introduced legislation to combat it.
It's the kind of record that has kept Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) in office since 2015 while representing an environmentally conscious South Florida seat that went for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 16 percentage points in 2016.
But Mucarsel-Powell, who appeared at a Democratic rally yesterday on the campus of Florida International University, said she has a simple message to short-circuit Curbelo's advantage: being a good-enough Republican on the environment isn't good enough anymore.
"We don't have time to waste," Mucarsel-Powell said in a post-rally interview. "We have very little time to address the impact of climate change and to reduce carbon emissions. And it's why I think that at this point it's crucial to elect me to Congress and have a majority of Democrats that are the only ones who are going to bring any sort of [climate] bill to the floor."
Over the last couple of years, Curbelo has made a name for himself as a Republican willing to speak out on climate change.
He co-founded the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), and in July he introduced a bill that would put a $24-per-ton tax on carbon emissions.
For "anyone else out there who is listening: Accept the science. It's real," Curbelo said in a CNN interview earlier this month. "Let's start focusing on the solutions that we need. And by the way, if we are going to get any solutions, we need Republicans and Democrats working together."
Curbelo has often been a lonely voice on the issue. His carbon tax bill had attracted only two co-sponsors — Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) — and this summer he was one of just six House Republicans to vote against a resolution that slammed carbon taxes as "detrimental" to the U.S. economy.
"He loves to talk but really we have seen no action as it pertains to bringing up a bill to a floor, to have a debate and to take immediate action to combat the impact of climate change," Mucarsel-Powell said. And "he's proud of passing a tax bill that not only adds $1.9 trillion to our deficit but allows the drilling of the Arctic National [Wildlife] Refuge."
Curbelo's past pro-climate efforts have put at least one environmental group in an awkward position.
While his 2017 score with the League of Conservation Voters was at 23 percent, it was enough to put him in the top tier of House Republicans. So one of the group's campaign arms, LCV Action Fund, has declined to endorse either Curbelo or Mucarsel-Powell in their fight for Florida's 26th District.
Still, Mucarsel-Powell has received the backing of the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club in part because of Curbelo's overall record and what the group sees as the advantage of a Democratic-controlled Congress.
"He didn't take the next step to actually vote for good climate bills and against bad ones. And it's not just the word 'climate' in the bill. You're talking about clean energy policies that will reduce the amount of carbon going in the atmosphere," said Frank Jackalone director of Sierra Club Florida.
He said it would be a "better choice" to add Mucarsel-Powell to a Democratic majority that would be more committed than its GOP counterpart to passing legislation that would address global warming.
But Curbelo, at a homeowners association forum yesterday, made the case that his work on climate is integral to combating global warming.
"Of course humans contribute to climate change, and that's why humans have to fix all our environmental problems," said Curbelo, pointing to his carbon tax bill.
With Election Day less than two weeks away, Mucarsel-Powell's partisan-heavy approach could be paying dividends in a district where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans.
A mid-October poll by The New York Times found a slight 1 percentage point edge for Mucarsel-Powell — which is well within the survey's margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.
That's an improvement for Mucarsel-Powell since the newspaper polled the district last month and found Curbelo ahead by 3 percentage points, which also was within the poll's margin of error.