MIAMI, FLORIDA — Debbie Mucarsel Powell is running in one of the most competitive congressional races in the country, but you wouldn’t be able to tell , given how much fun she’s having.
The Democratic candidate for FL-26 danced along to Shakira song in a Colombian “Chiva” party bus, complete with dancers, a band, and Cuban pastelitos, while visiting early voting sites in the district, which encompasses southwest Miami-Dade County, the Everglades, and the Keys.
The Chiva bus — a rustic, open-air vehicle mostly found in Colombia and Ecuador — is typically equipped with outdoor ladders for easy access and overhead compartments and that can be used to transport livestock and bulky wares in Latin America. Those same features make them ideal party vehicles, including on the campaign trail in southern Florida.
Recent polls put Mucarsel Powell just one percentage point behind the Republican incumbent Rep. Carlos Curbelo, whose district Clinton won by 16 points in 2016. FL-26 is the most Democratic district in the country to be represented by a Republican.
The bus also transported two other South Florida Democratic House candidates in tight races to early voting events: Donna Shalala, former Health and Human Services Secretary and president of the University of Miami, running to replace longtime Republican Congresswoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Florida’s 27th Congressional District and Mary Barzee Flores, a former circuit court judge challenging Republican Rep. Mario Diaz Balart in FL-25.
The Chiva bus event was organized by “Unidos Por Gillum,” a grassroots coalition aimed at mobilizing Latinx voters to cast their ballots for progressive candidates like Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum and other down-ballot Democrats.
At a time when the Latinx vote across the country is seen as wavering and inanimate, South Florida appears to have done something right.
What Unidos Por Gillum recognizes is that the Latinx community is not a monolith. Campaign volunteers handed out buttons and stickers that read, “Cubanos Por Gillum,” “Puertorriqueños Por Gillum,” “Venezolanos Por Gillum,” and “Colombianos Por Gillum.” Voters with ties to these different countries, with different histories and different cultures, come together as the Latinx community to vote.
That specificity means a lot to voters in South Florida, which has shifted over the years from being predominantly Cuban-American to a more diverse Latinx community comprised of Dominicans, Guatemalans, Mexicans, and other Central and South American countries.
A supporter in line for some guava pastelitos held a “Nicas Por Gillum” button and gasped, “Look, I’m represented!”
Beatriz Chicoacan, an elderly woman from Colombia, pinned an “Abuelitas Por Gillum” button to her shirt and said, “con fe, podemos ganar” — “with faith, we can win.”
Maybe it’s because the Latinx community makes up nearly 70 percent of the city of Miami, but Latinx voters seem poised to continue their tradition of voting early in large numbers in South Florida.
“It doesn’t take a lot to convince Latinos to vote, everyone I talk to is so energized, so mobilized,” Mucarsel Powell, who is originally from Ecuador, told ThinkProgress.
With nine days left in early voting, more than 2.3 million Floridians have already cast their ballots.