Guest Column: Democrats need to think logically about 2016 US Senate Race

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 peoPatrick_Murphy,_official_portrait,_113th_Congressple 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


  1. Patrick Murphy is a sell out who talks thru every side of his mouth. I don’t sell out to appeasers with money like many other greedy unprincipled consultants. A vote for Patrick Murphy is a vote for oil pipelines and fracking. Since 2014, Murphy’s biggest donors according to Open Secrets are big business insiders in real estate, finance, and law. Since 2014, Murphy has according to Ballotoedia voted more with Republicans than Democrats. Murphy is a Democrat in Name Only (DINO). Murphy has failed to enforce the Clean Water Act or Florida Constitution in simply his own district, so he does not deserve a seat in the United States Senate.


  2. I appreciate your opinion, and respect your right to have it. That being said, here is mine. I, too, fought for Nan Rich in that Governor’s Primary. I fought for what Nan Rich stood for, and I fought for her right to run. I stood up against the people who wanted her to just disappear. I fought against the people who wanted to ignore her. Guess what? Everyone deserves the chance to run, win, lose, or draw. Patrick Murphy is not the only Democrat that has declared. I do not care how well-funded he is. I do not care how much the establishment wants him to be the sole candidate. I do not care that people think he has the best chance to win. What I care about is that people are treated fairly. I care that people are given the same chance to sink or swim. Whether anyone likes it or not, Pam Keith is in this primary. Alan Grayson may be later. I will fight for Pam’s AND Alan’s right to run. I, as a Black Woman, will not stand by and watch Pam be treated in the same manner that Nan Rich was treated. One of the biggest problems the FDP has is the fact that the leaders think they can decide who the nominee should be. Why is there a problem with letting the people decide? I do not give a rat’s crack who has endorsed Patrick Murphy. I do not follow the crowd, or go along to get along. I think everyone knows by now that I don’t care what anyone says, I’m going to do what I think is right. The right thing is acknowledging ALL Democratic candidates in the race, and not trying to push them out because they are not “the chosen one”. There are over 23.5 million Black Women in this country and not a single one is a Senator. I am happy and proud that Pam has put herself out there. I’m going to support her in the primary and do everything I can to get others to do the same. If Alan Grayson decides to declare, I suggest those that support him do everything to make him the winner, baggage and all. This tow the party leader line stuff is for the birds. For those that do not know who she is, check her out: Support her if you want, don’t support her if you don’t want to, but do not act like she doesn’t exist.


  3. Kettle=black · ·

    so… its okay to support former republicans now?


  4. The Observer · ·

    You are totally wrong on Keystone. That oil is headed for export. Let the primaries run their course and see who the voters want. What we do not want is someone who is spoon fed to us by the establishment. That always leads to lost elections.


  5. Wendy Sejour · ·

    Thinking logically, I want someone who represents my liberal values. It’s not the Murphy is not liberal enough, it’s that he is not liberal at all. Add to that the fact that he is being shoved down our throats as our only hope makes it an easier decision for me.

    I am a Grayson supporter, but I believe that all candidates who want to run should be allowed to do so unencumbered by the FDP back room bullshit. Let Murphy, Keith, Grayson (if he chooses to run) and anyone else who jumps in run their best campaigns and be allowed to participate in public debates. Florida Democrats deserve to make their own educated choice.


    1. Saying Patrick isn’t liberal at all is patently absurd. He supports same sex marriage, women’s right to choose, etc. Trust me, I understand the frustration with some of his environmental and economic votes, but to say he’s not liberal at all is incorrect.


      1. Those are easy issues…every Democrat outside rural areas these days supports those two tenants. Sorry but that does not make one “liberal” at all. Those are the same two issues my wife gives to excuse her boss claiming he is a moderate, when in fact we know he is a right-winger.


  6. Mark Lynn · ·

    This column is right on the money!! Kudos, Sean.


  7. I am glad that somebody else here has mentioned Pam Keith’s Senate candidacy (she is definitely running), Alan Grayson has not announced yet if he will run. Ms. Keith’s statements (as reflected on her website) are superb, especially her position on freedom of expression. I think the Democratic Party will be best served by vigorous campaigns by all candidates up to the Primary, these will capture voter interest and will ensure that our base is not put to sleep (which I think happened last year in the Governor’s race). Murphy has in his favor that he has twice already won in a district that is more competitive than most South FL Congressional districts. I am more interested in a candidate that can win statewide than in purity tests.


  8. Couldn’t agree more!


  9. Good Evening: The above article is selling Patrick Murphy; that is fine; but I am NOT buying it.
    Alan Grayson who is the best choice this week decided to call me: MEAN, SILLY and most recent email said I was Rude to him. Simple I wanted Alan Grayson to decide NOW to get in the race for U.S. Senate or get the hell out of the way. Patrick Murphy will not get my vote and since I don’t want him to win I will be on the ballot November 8, 2016 as Independent along with several other NPA candidates form different parts of Florida. Oh, by the way I put down 1000 signs for Gore/Lieberman and still have 300 signs and several thank you letters from Honorable Joe Lieberman. Listen YOU may want Patrick Murphy but I will do my best to stop him. Thanks 386 788 3885 Richard Paul Dembinsky


  10. Fair, another candidate that is 1st on the ballot, Lateresa A. Jones, please continue to be fair to us all. I ran in 2014 for Lt. Governor with an Independent candidate , media and the party treated us like shit . The problem we let money rule and not the best candidate for the job. I too supported Nan Rich up into the primaries we the Floridians must put a stop to the political bullying and media prostitution. Something much bigger here in Florida is at stake, we have 11 million registered voters and only half of them voted. This is a disgrace to all Americans when the power of the people is not recognized. I am a 4th generation black american, my grandmother died at 122 years old in THIS country. My history don’t allow me to sit down and say nothing or do nothing, it demands of me to use my voice. Blessings to all I will be the “people’s US Senator 2016.


  11. Perry Moppins · ·

    Arguing that everyone should set principle aside in voting because your favorite candidate has more more money and insider support is a terrible rhetorical tactic, especially for Democrats. That kind of privileged “We’ll tell you who can win” attitude is a better fit for rigid Republicans.

    And Grayson is no Nader. He’d had no problem at all out-fundraising this person or winning broad support.

    What bothers me about Mr. Murphy is his history of supporting Bowles-Simpson, a measure blatantly designed to destroy Social Security. Anyone who has bought into the fuzzy math claiming we can’t afford the best single social program in the history of America — on with a two trillion-dollar SURPLUS — simply because Republicans and Wallstreet would prefer that money go into their pockets instead is either against the best principles of the Democratic Party or just dangerously deluded.

    Will he sign the Grayson-Takano letter pledging to vote against any cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits?


    1. Valerie Anderson · ·

      Your first paragraph is on point.


  12. […] Commerce in 2014, a group that hardly ever endorses “real” Democrats. The other day, Sean Phillippi urged Florida Democrats to “think logically” about the upcoming senate race by taking the thoroughly senseless position that Patrick Murphy is a […]


  13. […] this isn’t Phillippi’s first swipe at Grayson.  A previous attack piece featured the bizarre claim that Grayson couldn’t win African American […]


  14. […] article here).  I have written before on why progressive Democrats should embrace Patrick Murphy (See Here), and how Alan Grayson has been his own worst enemy (Read […]


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