By Sean Phillippi
Little if anything in life is free. Almost everything, especially in politics, comes at a cost. This is certainly the case when one is standing on political principle. The largest costs are usually those that we don’t expect or foresee. Recent developments in Florida’s 2016 US Senate race bring to mind a shining example of this from the 2000 Presidential Election. I knew several people who voted for Ralph Nader over Al Gore because they either thought that Gore wasn’t liberal enough or he did not pass their personal litmus test. Both during and after the debacle that was the 2000 recount, I asked everyone who told me that they were planning on voting for Nader whether they regretted their decision and whether they would change their vote to Gore if they could. Every single last person I asked deeply regretted voting for Nader and wished that they could change their vote to Al Gore.
If just 1% of those people who cast ballots for Nader voted for Al Gore instead it would have been Gore and not Bush who got sworn in as President. It is those Nader voters who allowed George W. Bush to be the President who invaded Iraq and who at best just stood by as the economy got driven off of a cliff while he was President. It is the two US Supreme Court Justices that George W. Bush appointed who made Citizens United the law of the land. If Nader voters could have foreseen what a George W. Bush presidency would look like I am guessing that more than the requisite 1% would have voted for Al Gore instead. I now see people, many of whom I consider friends, attack Patrick Murphy for not being liberal enough and for not passing their personal litmus test. This leads me to wonder if everyone realizes the stakes of this election.
It is likely that the next President will appoint multiple US Supreme Court Justices. I am optimistic that Hillary Clinton will win the White House, and if she does having a Democratic majority in the Senate will make it easier for her to appoint who she wants instead of who she thinks a GOP majority would confirm. The majority party in the Senate also controls committee chair(wo)manships and holds a majority in all committees, which is also very important. If a Republican wins the White House, then gaining a majority in the Senate becomes even more important. Remember that Democrats controlled the Senate when Robert Bork got rejected and Republicans controlled the Senate when Samuel Alito got confirmed. Controversial decisions on the US Supreme Court, like Citizens United, the Obamacare case, and the last challenge to Roe v. Wade, often get decided by a single vote.
Patrick Murphy is pro-choice, pro-women’s rights, pro-environment, pro-Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and pro-LGBT rights. He is smart, his work ethic is second to none, and he is a genuinely nice guy who cares about doing the right thing. The US Chamber of Commerce endorsed his re-election bid last year and two of the most liberal members of the Florida Congressional Delegation (Ted Deutch and Alcee Hastings) endorsed his US Senate candidacy in its first week (I have supported Patrick Murphy since he first ran in 2011). Murphy is not as liberal as Alan Grayson (who is reportedly considering a bid) just like Gore was not as liberal as Nader, but Grayson is about as electable in 2016 statewide as Nader was in 2000.
People who know me know that I put my money where my mouth is. I proudly worked on staff to help Nan Rich get elected Governor of Florida last year. Most people know that Nan Rich was treated poorly during the race, but very few know better than I do that her treatment was truly much more despicable than most people realize (though she has too much class to say anything publicly). To compare what happened last year to the 2016 US Senate race is unfair because they are not comparable. One of the main reasons that Charlie Crist lost last year was because of the massive amount of baggage that he brought to the table. Rick Scott painted Crist as a crook, and when presented with two candidates who were calling each other crooks more voters sided with the one who had guts and core beliefs over the candidate who they thought did not.
Both Grayson and Murphy have core beliefs that drive them, and they can both raise the money needed to run statewide, but it is Grayson and not Murphy who has the baggage similar to what Crist had last year. Woman are one of the two constituencies, along with African Americans, who Democrats cannot afford to lose. Grayson’s divorce is so nasty that the GOP would have a field day painting him as anti-women without having to use their imagination. Murphy’s baggage is so minute that all the GOP could criticize him for when he announced was that he was young. The GOP has already spent millions in previous elections attacking Murphy, so it is a good sign for Democrats that his youth was the best that the GOP could honestly come up with.
One vote that some liberal Democrats criticize Patrick Murphy for is his vote in favor of the Keystone XL Pipeline. I worked for Nan Rich last year, and the first state-level campaign I was ever involved with was volunteering for Sherrod Brown back in 2006, and if I was in Congress I would have voted in favor of Keystone XL just like Patrick Murphy did. I am not saying that Keystone XL is a good idea, because I don’t think it is and calling it a jobs bill is laughable, but it is the best out of a bunch of bad options. We cannot stop Canadian oil companies from bringing their oil into the United States. If we don’t allow the pipeline to be built they will just transport it by another method like on our roads or by rail. Since we can’t stop them the question becomes what is the safest way to transport the oil, and there is no question that environmentally speaking a pipeline is much safer than any other transportation method available today.
Patrick Murphy has never run for office as anything but a Democrat. People criticize him because he used to be a Republican, but as you may remember Hillary Clinton used to be a Republican as well. I personally like Alan Grayson’s politics, but he is unelectable statewide (I know people said that about Nan Rich, but it wasn’t true about her and no one who claimed she was unelectable has data to back up their claim). Barack Obama got 61% of the vote in Grayson’s district in 2012 but only 47% in Murphy’s district. Despite that double digit gap Murphy won re-election with a higher percentage of the vote in 2014 than Grayson did. In fact, Murphy got more votes than any other Democratic Congressional candidate in 2014 who had opposition on the ballot (he even came within 2,000 votes of Ted Deutch, whose only opposition was a blank line representing a write-in candidate).
PPP did some polling on the Florida US Senate race. Horse race (meaning head to head) polling at this point has as much predictive value as flipping a coin, but there are a few items in the poll that aren’t completely worthless. One is that no one reached 50% in any of the 10 hypothetical matchups, which means this race will be as wide open as most people expected. The other takeaway is that Alan Grayson’s statewide approval rating is under water while 61% more voters approve of Murphy statewide than disapprove. I have heard people claim that Grayson would drive liberal turnout, but if he could do that he wouldn’t have lost by 18% in 2010 and he would have done better than Murphy in 2014 considering he has a much more liberal district. The fact is only Presidential candidates drive turnout in a Presidential Election, and no one who would vote for Alan Grayson over Patrick Murphy is going to support a Republican candidate instead of Patrick Murphy.
I believe that people have the right to support whoever they want for whatever reason they want. If you want to write-in Mickey Mouse because you like his big ears, then that is your right. Just ask yourself this when thinking about the US Senate race: Are you willing to risk Roe v. Wade, or any of your other rights, because someone who is but pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-environment, pro-immigration reform, and pro-ACA isn’t liberal enough?
Sean Phillippi is a Democratic strategist and founder of the political data firm TLE Analytics