Democrat Mucarsel-Powell takes aim at Rick Scott’s changing abortion views

Democrat Mucarsel-Powell takes aim at Rick Scott’s changing abortion views
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ORLANDO, Fla. — Last week, Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott said he would have signed Florida’s 6-week abortion ban if he still were governor. This week, he said he preferred a 15-week ban. And on Monday, within hours, he and his office gave two answers on whether he would consider voting for a federal abortion ban.

Former U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Scott’s likely Democratic opponent in the November election, has been calling out his shifting positions, trying to give her Senate campaign traction against him.

“He’s hiding from a toxic record that he knows he cannot win on,” Mucarsel-Powell said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel. “He lies about his record time and time again because he knows that the majority of Floridians in this state know who he is, and they don’t want him back in the Senate.”

The massive personal wealth that Scott has used in his past victories, the benefit of incumbency and a Republican-leaning state still make him the favorite. But the abortion issue, which was always going to be a major factor in the race, has become supercharged in the past few weeks.

This month alone, an abortion rights amendment made the ballot in Florida, a 6-week ban was allowed by the Florida Supreme Court to go into effect on May 1, and the Arizona Supreme Court allowed an extreme 1864 abortion law to be enacted.

“I think it’s a very competitive race,” said Gregory Koger, a professor of political science at the University of Miami. “The ramifications of overturning Roe v. Wade continue to percolate through our society and through our politics. … It’s such a stark choice, and it’ll be hard for any politician to ignore the issue, or to avoid their past positions in the case of Rick Scott.”

The main issue, Koger said, was “how would Rick Scott actually vote [on abortion] after he’s been reelected? That is the question, and it’s hard for him to address that question within an election year conversion.”

The Mucarsel-Powell campaign cited bills Scott co-sponsored or voted for before Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022, including a 20-week national abortion ban he voted for in 2020 and co-sponsored in 2021, and an amendment he voted for in 2021 “establishing penalties for providers” who perform abortions after 20 weeks.

‘We’ll see what comes up’

Asked Monday at a campaign event in Orlando if he would vote for a federal abortion ban in the Senate, Scott said, “We’ll see what comes up. We’ll see what it is. The general rule is that it’s at the state level, that’s what the Supreme Court decided.”

“We’ve got to recognize there have to be reasonable limitations,” Scott said. “And we’ve got to work together to bring a consensus together.”

Shortly afterward, Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis said Scott’s position since Roe was overturned has been that he is against any federal role in abortion, citing comments from January in which he said “states ought to make the decision on how to regulate abortion” and called Mucarsel-Powell a “liar” for saying he currently backed a federal ban.

Scott’s position on just what states should be doing on abortion in the post-Roe era also has changed.

In response to a Democratic legislator saying Scott had “come out against” the 6-week Florida abortion ban signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Scott wrote on X, “Not true. I am 100% pro-life and if I was still governor, I would sign this bill.”

That led Florida Democrats to attack. “Make no mistake – Rick Scott is fully behind Florida’s extreme abortion ban,” said party spokesperson Alex Wood. “He said he would have signed it into law himself and has pledged to vote to keep it in place. His extreme anti-abortion agenda is out of step with Floridians and will cost him his Senate seat in November.”

On Monday, though, Scott told The Hill, “in Florida there’s way more consensus around 15 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.”

Asked specifically if he would favor replacing the 6-week ban with a 15-week ban, Scott told The Hill, “If I was writing a bill, I think 15 weeks is where the state is.”

But on Tuesday night, he said he still would have signed the 6-week bill anyway.

“If I was governor, and the 6-week abortion ban came in front of me, I would sign it,” he told Spectrum Bay News 9. “I’ve always said I would sign it.”

Mucarsel-Powell also has slammed Scott for his reaction to the Arizona Supreme Court ruling that enacted an 1864 abortion ban with no exceptions save for the life of the mother.

Appearing on Fox Business on April 9, Scott said, “Well, look, this is what’s going to happen as a result of the overturn of Roe v. Wade. … We’re going to decide this at the state level. State by state is going to figure this out. I’m sure Arizona will figure this out. In Florida, we’ve got a constitutional amendment that’s going to help us figure out where we are. So this is exactly what ought to happen.”

Mucarsel-Powell told the Sentinel that the Arizona statute is “an archaic law that puts women at risk, and he says it’s exactly what ought to happen. Because he’s celebrated overturning Roe v. Wade. … He is celebrating the fact that states are banning abortion.”

At the Orlando event Monday, Scott said it was a “lie” to characterize his comments on Fox Business as supporting the Arizona law. “What I said is, the states are making a decision and … they’re going to go through the process of deciding what is a consensus in their state.”

But, he added, “I completely oppose the law.”

‘A lot of work to do’

David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from St. Petersburg and co-founder of the Forward Party, said the Democrats “have a lot of work to do. The grassroots are enthused, but the numbers are challenging.”

“In a straight head-to-head between incumbent Republican in the state of Florida and a Democratic challenger, you’d still have to give the nod to Rick Scott,” Jolly said. “But Democrats were given a lifeline with the abortion question on the ballot.”

A USA TODAY/Ipsos poll released Monday showed that 50% of Florida voters said they backed the abortion rights amendment. That was still lower than the 60% needed for passage, but 16% of respondents said they were unsure or unregistered, a potential pool of voters Democrats are looking to grab.

That same poll showed Mucarsel-Powell with poor name recognition, with 74% of all voters not having heard of her.

An Emerson College Polling survey from last week found even weaker support for the abortion amendment, with just 42% of voters saying they support the amendment and 25% opposing it. But another 32% were undecided.

“Scott is starting from a very strong vantage point with financial resources,” Jolly said. “The question is, can Democrats and adjacent organizations really mobilize these voters in November? And if so, I’d say to Rick Scott, ‘Watch out,’ because this is a race that could sneak up on him.”

Matt Isbell, a Democratic elections analyst, said the abortion issue remained a major issue that brought voters out to the polls even two years after Roe was overturned, citing Democratic wins in off-year and special elections nationwide and in Florida.

“You get what you wish for,” Isbell said of Republicans. “You campaigned on repealing Roe, and now that Roe is gone, well, guess what? You’ve got to answer for all of it.”