Is Patrick Murphy’s “base” really secure against Jeff Atwater?

Patrick_Murphy_113th_CongressIn the last few weeks we have been told Patrick Murphy is the most electable Democrat who could be potentially running for US Senate. As we have outlined before, much of this reasoning is based on outdated theories about “moderates” and the need to appeal to “mainstream” voters.  However, it must be conceded that the numbers make sense in principle about Murphy’s strength — Matt Isbell, the smartest numbers guy in the state (at least among Florida Democrats) has made a strong case that Murphy is a “dream candidate.” Democrats certainly need a dream candidate considering the party has won just 5% of statewide elections since 2000 where Bill Nelson who was an established statewide figure before the turn of the century wasn’t the party’s nominee. However you cut it, 5% is an exceptionally low and embarrassing number particularly when you consider that Democrats have for all intents and purposes carried the state in three of the four Presidential elections during that period.

Much of the media focus the last few days has been on Murphy’s increasingly conservative voting record which has seen him cast a higher percentage of critical votes with the GOP leadership in 2015 than with his own party. The case can be made that once again the Florida Democrats playbook, as it has been for the past fifteen years is to nominate the most corporate friendly candidate possible in the hope she or he attracts mythical moderate voters and money from big business. For whatever reason, the thought process among many usually rational activists throughout the state is that Murphy’s candidacy will be different from that of many previous middle-of-the-road campaigns.  It very well could be — provided that CFO Jeff Atwater is NOT the GOP nominee for US Senate in 2016.

In both the 2010 and 2014 CFO elections, Atwater received many crossover Democratic votes in Murphy’s adopted home of Palm Beach County, particularly in coastal areas. Additionally, many of Atwater’s local backers are prominent Democrats —including multiple activist leaders whose support might be critical for Murphy to lock down areas east of I-95 in a General Election. Three coastal State House seats in Broward and Palm Beach counties all won by Charlie Crist on November 4, 2014 yet carried by GOP incumbent House members (HD 85, 89 and 93) more or less reflect the area where Atwater has created his political base. It is this area where Murphy hails from ( he was a Fort Lauderdale resident and now claims Palm Beach Gardens as home) and this area where ticket splitters are prevalent. It is worth noting the majority of county and municipal officials representing these areas are Republicans, although Democrats have fared well in statewide and Presidential campaigns here. Atwater, using his old political base was able to carry about three dozen precincts precincts east of I-95 in both 2010 and 2014 that Democrats carried in the majority of races on the ballot that day for State or Federal office. This is thanks to Atwater’s long-standing relationships throughout the area.

As a State Representative and State Senator, Atwater had a unique ability to connect with Democratic leaders in his Palm Beach County home and win key support from Democrats in local elections. Atwater quickly became a superstar after trouncing Carl Domino in the 2000 State House District 83 (now 85) GOP Primary despite being heavily outspent. He then defeated Democrat Pam Dunston easily in the fall, despite the fact that Al Gore carried the district by six percentage points over George W. Bush. In a study I did for the Palm Beach County Democratic Party in 2001, we determined that upwards of 15% of the electorate in House District 83 had voted for Gore, as well as Bill Nelson for US Senate, but then switched to Atwater in the State House race. This trend would continue in future years.

Two years later, Atwater was the beneficiary of a feud between Senator Debby Sanderson and former Senate President Jim Scott. Scott, serving as legal counsel for the Senate on reapportionment,  helped engineer the redrawing of Sanderson’s district (which Scott had formerly represented for 24 years) into areas that would make her re-election less likely. Sanderson, after initially running against Atwater, dropped out and Atwater was elected by a wide margin over statewide Democratic superstar Bob Butterworth, the sitting Attorney General. Butterworth’s campaign never really took off, but Atwater had defeated the most popular statewide Democratic official and was instantly a player in Republican party circles. These connections have persisted.

In 2010, following Atwater’s tenure as Senate President local loyalty was so strong to him many prominent Democrats in the area quietly steered support even in the condo area towards him in his CFO race. Atwater still lost condo precincts in 2010 and 2014 to his Democratic opposition but fared better than the rest of the GOP ticket in both elections. Some of Murphy’s local crossover support comes from people involved in groups such as the Economic Council of Palm Beach County and local Chambers of Commerce. In a head-to-head matchup with Atwater, the members of these groups can be almost guaranteed to stay home with the popular local Republican. Applying logic to the equation, Murphy or any other Democrat would be a prohibitive underdog against Atwater. However, a hope must spring eternal in Democratic circles that Atwater’s moderate reputation costs him a GOP Primary should he run. Murphy certainly would be competitive if not favored against Rep. Tom Rooney (who previously represented much of Murphy’s current district) or Rep. Ron DeSantis. But it is difficult barring a major Democratic wave, to see how Murphy is the ideal candidate against Atwater given the geography of the race. Then again perhaps nobody on the Democratic side is ideal against Atwater, a proven successful statewide and local vote getter.


  1. The future · · Reply

    Wow very interesting analysis of Atwater’s success in the local Palm Beach and Broward areas. Still I wonder if anyone can do better than Murphy. It seems he’s a fresh face Ds have been looking for. His voting record is worrying but I have come to the conclusion he’s stronger than Grayson and won’t embarrass us on the stump with stupid statements.

  2. True Blue · · Reply

    The problem with all of this Murphy bashing be it from stooge Kartik, stooge Susan Smith or stooge commentators on here is that Murphy CAN WIN and Grayson CANNOT WIN. Those are your two options, Democrats. Do you want to toss your chances down the drain on the altar of ideological purity? Murphy is with us 90% of the time – pro choice, pro marriage equality, pro environment. He’s a good Democrat who has balanced his voting record in such a way he will get moderate votes.

    Atwater has run in Republican wave election years. All of the elections Kartik mentions were wave elections. 2002, 2010 and 2014. In 2014 he hardly had opposition. In 2008, a Democratic year we had a strong candidate Skip Campbell that dropped out of the race and could have beaten him. Kartik will recall this well, I am sure because he was involved in all of the shenanigans as we all remember.

    So in summary Atwater isn’t a 9,000,000 gorilla and Murphy is far more viable than Grayson and not as conservative as you people seem to claim. 2016 will be a Democratic year and Murphy is more likely than not to win the election thanks to turnout. Any questions?

    I think that should put it to bed.

    1. FDP hack alert!

    2. dianecbrown · · Reply

      You are not going to persuade others by calling them names. I totally disregard the opinions of people who stoop to childish name calling of those who oppose him. If this is the ilk supporting Murphy, than the Republican has already won.

      BTW, anyone who voted for the Keystone pipeline as Murphy did is NOT pro-environment (the Everglades is important but not as much as global warming). Nor would a pro-choice man donate to a known anti-choice/anti-woman Republican like Romney.

      Here is a tip for you Murphy supporters – come up with real examples of how Murphy is a true blue Democrat.

      1. Michael · ·

        This disregards the fact that Murphy has devoted a lot of work in his own district to environmental work, and also the fact that he even got an award.

        Grayson supporters…you haven’t provided me with a reason why I should vote for him. I’m not going to vote for a candidate who thinks its OK to outright lie about his opponent (Taliban Dan).

    3. Part of the reason Skip Campbell dropped out was health related. Part of the reason honestly was that the numbers didn’t add up. Atwater was incredibly popular despite the Democratic bent of the district in what was shaping up to be a big D year.

  3. Democratic Operative · · Reply

    At some point it has to be said all these articles and especially the conduct of the “Democratic Progressive Caucus” smacks of what the Republicans want. Patrick Murphy is a better Democrat than Kartik Krishnaiyer, Susan Smith or any of the troublemakers. Being a Democrats is not determined by issues or ideology but by how much you help the party.

    Kartik makes the Sunshine State News job easy as they can always quote TFS about the Democrat “dissent.”

  4. Fla Dem · · Reply

    A disgraceful piece. Murphy is hands down our best candidate. Atwater won those Democrats against far weaker campaigns. If anything Atwater should be worried about his base.

    1. How is Murphy who is totally unproven and largely unknown statewide going to take votes from Atwater’s base?

      1. Michael · ·

        A better question is why you think that Grayson can do that.

  5. Really good article and points few if anyone have brought up. We are so focused on internal fights that the potential GOP opposition hasn’t been properly analyzed.

  6. So Atwater is incredibly popular in South Florida. But Murphy is really well liked too. Atwater has also had the fortune of running against weak or underfunded candidates.

    Murphy had a really tough race to get into office in 12 and a had a joke of a candidate in 14. Grayson has lost 2 of his 3 competitive races but also pulls from farther from the left than Murphy might.

    Atwater might also run to the right and Murphy to the left in a general campaign.

    So really, who the hell knows.

    1. This is certainly fair…but the Atwater factor has not been discussed in the internal Democratic battle, so I felt it was best to interject some discussion as to his strength vis a vis Murphy’s at this point in time.

      1. It’s a lot of weird unknowns playing out in a presidential year where most of our assumptions come from off years. I think a lot will also depend on who our very top of the ticket person is and whether they are running from the middle or the left.

  7. Pretty much says it all. Murphy’s base is far from secure against the likely GOP nominee. Stating political reality makes you a threat to the powers that be. They’ll hate this article!

  8. It's 2015 not 2006 · · Reply

    This article debunks the notion that murphy’s viability is off the charts. So he’s not a real Democrat, is untested and has leakage in his base. What else could go wrong? But for democrats who specialize in losing, he’s the perfect foil.

    1. dianecbrown · · Reply

      The key to winning is energizing your base. Can Murphy energize the base with his record of supporting Republican causes?

      1. Michael · ·

        Remember, Presidential election year.

  9. Blue Dog Dem · · Reply

    Love Murphy and feel you are way to harsh on him
    and moderates in general.

    But this is common sense. Atwater is almost impossible to beat and Ds have to hope Bush isn’t at the top of GOP ticket AND someone other than Atwater wins the Republican nomination in order to have a real string shot.

  10. Really good article that’s on the money.

  11. Murphy has no base other than Wall Street bankers and FDP insiders.

    1. Michael · · Reply


  12. Is there throes of Murphy mania among Florida Demo party packs insiders operatives and staff a clear look at the potential opposition has not been taken.

    But what would you expect from a party whose opposition research consists of trolling people on Twitter.

  13. Patti Lynn · · Reply

    Patrick Murphy DOES have a base…and it is in the local precincts, neighborhoods,and clubs. His votes are not 100% agreeable to me, but, I have never agreed with anyone on everything. He has worked with various groups on their issues, and stands up for them and with them. If he disagrees with a position, he is willing to discuss it, perhaps to change his mind, maybe yours, but at least the process is understood by everyone. Working well with Republicans is something that Democrats NEED!!!! Patrick Murphy IS able to work across the aisle, and that is to our advantage. It will be years before Florida turns purple or blue, and the US Senate is a more collegial group than the House. I will support Patrick Murphy, because I believe that: He will win; he will be effective for us, his constituents; he does not need the financial incentives that lobbyists provide; he truly cares about the people of Florida.

  14. The Observer · · Reply

    Atwater = Weiss and Handler & (Burt Arronson) – Murphy

    1. Jonathan · · Reply

      Yes and Andre Fladell also. Big Atwater backer.

  15. I’m not sure Democrats in Florida ever learn their lessons.

    Alex Sink in 2010 felt she could ignore progressive Democrats and as a result, they weren’t energized for her campaign and she lost.

    Charlie Crist in 2014 Democrats tried running a former Republican. Again, Democrats weren’t energized and he lost.

    Now we have Patrick Murphy as our savior because of his 2 elections in a Republican leaning district. In 2014 he ran against Carl Domino, probably the weakest candidate the Republican could put into the race.

    In 2012 he ran against Alan West when both of them went carpetbagging for a district to run in. Murphy squeaked through in a presidential election year in part because white Republican voters couldn’t bring themselves to vote for their party’s candidate, regardless of how right-wing crazy he was.

    I’m afraid Alan Grayson is too polarizing a figure to win a state wide race. Murphy is probably our strongest candidate at the moment, but I’m not excited about hi. I can’t see myself working actively for his campaign but will pull the lever under his name in November.

    1. Michael · · Reply

      Actually Murphy did better than Obama in that district. Romney beat Obama too.

      1. Murphy did outperform Obama by app 3,200 votes. However, he won because West underperformed Romney by almost 13,000 votes. There seems to be a clear relationship between West’s poor performance vs Romney based upon the racial makeup of the precincts.

  16. Mark Lynn · · Reply

    Atwater will first have to get past Rooney. It used to be the Dems who cut themselves up in primaries (Senate, 80 & 88), but now it could be the GOP!

  17. […] for the US Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio sent shock-waves through Florida politics. As we discussed just a few short days ago, Atwater seemed likely to win any head-to-head race with a Democrat, was […]

  18. Patrick Murphy has not only a base but we are actually mourning the fact he won’t be our congressman. You should meet him because when you do you realize what a gem he is. He is the real thing. We adore him. We. The people who are fighting for clean water in the treasure coast. Oh yea. and your clean water too. and the water for the Everglades. and the water to prevent sea level rise and salt water intrusion. which is never on your radar. Patrick is right there. In the last few weeks he educated President Obama on our issues. He care about this. You guys don’t. Its politics as usual. What has anyone else done to help us save our precious water?

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