By Veronica Wade
It’s official. The Florida U.S. Senate seat is up for grabs as Marco Rubio has made his intentions to run for President clear. To date, there are but two people who have filed to run for the vacancy on the Democratic side: Patrick Murphy, Congressman from Florida’s 18th District, and newcomer Pam Keith. Murphy has worked quickly and efficiently to galvanize party support and raise funds. He has garnered the endorsements of several influential party operatives, including former Governor Charlie Crist, Congresswoman Fredericka Wilson and Congressman Alcee Hastings. Murphy brings with him a reputation for working well with Republicans and formidable financial backing, some of which comes from his own family coffers. Murphy was the bright spot in last year’s dismal Democratic showing, with a resounding win in a Republican leaning district, and has on his resume the ignominious defeat of Tea Party firebrand, Allen West. However, Murphy’s first win could be viewed as the result of voter disdain for West, more so than true confidence in Murphy. West outspent Murphy by more than 10 million dollars in one of the most expensive Congressional races in the country. From the result one can assume that West could have spent 25 million, or 30 million, rather than the 17 million he did, and still would have lost, no matter who the Democratic challenger was. In 2014, Murphy ran a strong campaign against one of the weakest and most inept Republican challengers in recent memory. Carl Domino put up no fight, refused to campaign in any substantive manner and ran ads that were painfully amateurish. In short, both of Murphy’s congressional wins come with an asterisk. He has successfully circled the Democratic Party wagons around himself, but it remains to be seen if this galvanizes voters or turns them off. And so far, Murphy has not presented any new ideas upon which he could distinguish himself as a candidate.
At first blush, Murphy’s name recognition and money ought to be enough to win him the nomination, and it very well might. But the story on this race is just beginning. There is still the very real possibility that Alan Grayson will jump into the mix. He has a solid fundraising infrastructure and very loyal base. Grayson, however, comes with a trunk-full of personal baggage and volumes of over-the-top and un-serious comments that make him unlikely to win support from any but the most ardent supporters. Rumors abound regarding Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine jumping in the race at some later date. Levine can rely on his abundant personal wealth to fund his run and support from some of the most well healed Floridians in the state. But Levine’s appeal is limited almost entirely to the Miami/Dade area.
The unknown element is Pam Keith. While others simply refuse to even acknowledge her run for office in the hopes that she will go away, there is real substance to this candidate. Keith, an African-American woman, is a former JAG officer in the U.S. Navy and a seasoned attorney. She speaks French and Spanish. Her website is polished and substantive and presents a positive and broad-reaching message. Keith is blessed with a youthful and energetic appearance, and pleasing demeanor. She advances innovative proposals that could appeal to the business community, many of which have not been raised by any other candidate on either side of the aisle. Most impressive, however, are her substantive understanding of the issues and her formidable public speaking skills. Keith balances the verbal mastery of a trained advocate with the passion of a preacher, pitching her delivery perfectly to convey intelligence and zeal. She can, and has, held an audience in the palm of her hand as has been demonstrated repeatedly at activist gatherings in the last six weeks. She can appeal to a broad range of voters, and has none of the baggage attributable to others considering a run. It remains to be seen if Keith can parlay her substantial personal appeal into fundraising prowess, and can create campaign machinery that can deliver on a statewide scale. But there can be no doubt that she is gaining converts everywhere she goes. Should this race become crowded with contenders, Pam Keith could rise above the fray as the candidate with the passion to truly advocate progressive ideas and the bona fides to win over swing and centrist voters.
Many progressives have rallied behind Alan Grayson and he is despite being a lightning rod with substantial political baggage the type of candidate that could inspire the base of the party. Like Keith, Grayson could prove to be a candidate that helps rally those voters that Hillary Clinton will need to win the state should Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush be the nominee.
Despite party support and the pressure from group aligned with the Democratic Party, Patrick Murphy is doing little if anything to inspire Democratic voters across the state. His “milk toast” campaigning style and wishy-washy record has activists clamoring for Grayson and flocking to hear Keith speak in person.
Veronica Wade is a Teacher/Counselor in Miami Dade County, and a political activist