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Senate candidate Debbie Mucarsel-Powell takes on Scott’s abortion record; he isn’t responding.

A central tenet in Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s Senate campaign to unseat incumbent GOP U.S. Sen. Rick Scott is to attack his record on abortion rights.

By Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix - January 25, 2024
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Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Democratic candidate for Florida's 26th Congressional District
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Democratic candidate for Florida's 26th Congressional District

A central tenet in Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s Senate campaign to unseat incumbent GOP U.S. Sen. Rick Scott is to attack his record on abortion rights.

“He is one of the most extreme Republicans and most radical Republicans when it comes to banning abortion and he has also publicly said that he supports a national abortion ban, so make no mistake, abortion is on the ballot in November,” she says. Mucarsel-Powell spoke to the Florida Phoenix earlier this week.

Scott is now on record as saying that he would support the six-week abortion ban that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last year, though initially it appeared that he did not. (That law has not gone into effect yet while the Florida Supreme Court prepares to rule on the state’s 15-week ban approved in 2022. If justices uphold the 15-week ban, the six-week ban will trigger 30 days later).

“As a woman and as a mother of two daughters, this fight is personal to protect our fundamental rights as women in this country to be able to make the decisions of when and how to start a family,” Mucarsel-Powell said.

She is looking to take Scott one-on-one in November – though she has to win her party’s primary election first. She is heavily favored to do so when the Democratic primary election takes place on August 20.

Mucarsel-Powell, who served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives (2019-2021) representing parts of Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys, says that Scott is out of touch with Floridians when it comes to his record on abortion rights. She’s been making that point on her social media channels as well as in interviews with state and national media outlets.

“Let’s make something very clear: this is one of the priorities of the MAGA agenda that Rick Scott is pushing,” she says about the notion of restricting abortion rights. “They are pushing it in DC. They want to not only ban reproductive health care. They are now talking about controlling access to contraception.”

In an interview with Telemundo in March of 2023, Scott was asked about the legislative ban on most abortions in Florida after just six weeks. (At the time, that bill was moving through the state Legislature.)

This is exactly how Scott responded:

“That’s a tough issue for people. You really have to be really compassionate about what people are going to (through). I think where most people are is reasonable restrictions, and probably for most people that’s about 15 weeks, with all of the exceptions. And so you ought to have exceptions for rape and incest and life of the mother, and so I think that’s where the population is, and I think …our state legislation ought to represent that.”

A few weeks after the Telemundo interview aired, Gainesville Democratic Rep. Yvonne Hinson said on the floor of the Florida House:

“Even conservative U.S. Senator Rick Scott came out against this bill,” Hinson said. Her comment was made on April 13, 2023.

Then, a Florida Phoenix reporter tweeted Hinton’s comment. That led to Scott responding on X.

“Not true,” he wrote. “I am 100% pro-life and if I was still governor, I would sign this bill,” meaning the six-week abortion ban.

As governor in 2015, Scott signed into law a measure requiring women to have to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion. In 2016, he signed a law that cut off state funding for preventive health services to clinics providing abortion.

In the U.S. Senate last year, Scott also strongly backed Alabama Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville’s controversial hold on Pentagon appointees because of his opposition to the Pentagon’s abortion policies.

Scott hasn’t talked much about abortion at all in the early stages of his Senate reelection campaign, but he did criticize Democrats in his May 9, 2022 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal for refusing to say when they believe that life begins, writing, “[w]hen do Democrats believe life begins? At conception? At viability? At birth? After birth? They won’t say.”

He also went on to criticize Democratic U.S. Senate candidates in that same op-ed for having “embraced legalizing abortion up until the moment of birth,” a line often used by Republicans against Democrats since the Dobbs decision.

Whether the issue of abortion rights can help Mucarsel-Powell in November isn’t clear at this point, says University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett. He notes that while the anger over the U.S. Supreme Court repealing the Roe v. Wade decision appeared to help Democrats across the country in November of 2022, it didn’t really move many votes for Democrats in Florida, where Ron DeSantis defeated Democrat Charlie Crist by 19 points in the governor’s race and Marco Rubio defeated Democrat Val Demings for U.S. Senate by 16 points.

But he says that Murcasel-Powell could very well benefit if a proposed constitutional amendment regarding abortion rights makes it on the ballot this November.

“There is some political science evidence, some research that suggests occasionally a high-profile ballot amendment might spur turnout. And this might be one of the things that’s different than the last election,” he says. “Maybe that in itself will spur more Democratic-leaning voters to the polls, and then while they’re there, voting to approve that amendment, presumably they would vote at least at the top of the ticket for Democrats– the Senate race would certainly be a pretty high-profile race.”

A University of North Florida survey released in November showed that 62% said they would vote yes on the measure if it makes the ballot, with 29% opposing it and 9% saying they didn’t know or refused to answer.

The anti-abortion movement has been in search of an effective campaign strategy following the repeated loss of abortion measures at the ballot box in the past the past two years. Longtime anti-abortion activist, the Rev. Pat Mahoney, told the States Newsroom last November that in large part Republicans have been ineffective communicators on the issue.

Jewett says it has been a vexing issue for Republicans, with some preferring to talk about issues that favor them in public opinion polls.

“There are some things historically about Rick Scott that may have been a little different than other candidates – like for instance his ability to self-fund – but in this case, this is a pretty common campaign strategy where you try to avoid talking about the issues that may hurt you with public opinion, and you try to stress the issues that you think will help.”

The Phoenix reached out to Senator Scott’s campaign office for a response, but did not hear back.

This story was originally published in the Florida Phoenix


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