The handwriting was on the wall. Rep. Patrick Murphy at the ripe young age of 32 was going to be the Democratic nominee for US Senate in 2016 and when Jeff Atwater opted not to run he was going to be a US Senator. But politics turns on a dime and what seemed inevitable just seven short weeks ago seems to be uncertain at best today.Murphy won the early support of the DSCC which the party hoped would seal off the race for the nomination, but party committees and endorsements rarely make a big difference.
The pages of this website have been filled with talk of a progressive rebellion against Patrick Murphy and while few people are really engaged in the US Senate race at this very early stage, it appears to some that Murphy seems to be on less solid footing as we enter June than he was in lets say mid-May.
Despite various attempts by establishment Democrats to besmirch Rep. Alan Grayson and to question his ability to compete in a statewide election, the clamoring for a Grayson candidacy is if anything growing louder by the week. Grayson’s own semi-embarrassing tirade from a few weeks ago seemed to only harden opinion on both sides of the debate – one side doubling down and saying the controversial Orlando Congressman was unelectable, while the other side claimed the liberal firebrand was being persecuted by the media and the party establishment.
Grayson would appear to have the most solid base of support for candidate or potential candidate. The loyalty of real progressives both along the I-4 corridor and in the southeast Florida. Also running is Pam Keith, who I have been working with. Keith’s campaign is beginning to connect with some bases of activists particularly in southeast Florida. Another potential candidate is Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine who spent over $2 million to be elected in 2013. Levine has deep pockets and could if he runs, siphon off votes in southern Florida.
Some Democrats have complained that if Murphy is nominated it would leave them without a choice in the General Election. After all, historically if candidates run on similar ideologies the genuine article wins. Take the 1924 Presidential Campaign when Calvin Cooldige, the most conservative President of the 20th Century faced Democratic nominee John W. Davis, also a conservative who had been nominated by a convention that refused to condemn the Ku Klux Klan. The platforms of both parties essentially aligned with few difference. Progressives in both parties bolted and backed Wisconsin Republican Senator Robert La Follette’s third party candidacy. The Democrats ended up with less than 20% of the national vote outside the south where as usual in that period the party dominated.
In 1948, something similar happened with Republicans nominating the liberal Tom Dewey to challenge President Truman. Conservative Southerns bolted the Democrats and backed Strom Thurmond but Truman won anyway by holding several southern states.
While Florida hasn’t had a viable third party candidate with the exception of Charlie Crist in 2010, the ease of the state’s ballot access laws that changed in the late 1990’s makes it a possibility. But Murphy will likely tact left in my estimation to prevent running room for Grayson or Levine while trying to connect with the Democrats base.Part of that base is interested in environmental issues, and there Murphy has a certain degree of strength.
Murphy is far from the ideal Democratic candidate for most progressives. However, his record on localized environmental issues could help finally re-position a Florida Democratic Party whose rhetoric and values have been out of touch on the most critical local issues in the southern part of the state. It is worth noting that Grayson has been the recipient of tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from the sugar industry in the part.
Early stages of campaigns always have an ebb and flow. Murphy isn’t looking inevitable any longer, but he is not looking particularly vulnerable either. A Grayson challenge, if it occurs was always going to be tough in a primary for any candidate especially one with Murphy’s middle-of-the-road voting record. That reality has not changed and while Murphy might appear to be wobbling it’s too early to tell whether he was simply Aoril 2015’s “Flavor of the Month” or in fact an inevitability as a US Senator. Time will provide the answer.