Although Pam Keith was always in the Senate race to win it, she won’t deny the sense of satisfaction she felt Wednesday, even though she came up well short of defeating Patrick Murphy for the Democratic nomination.
Keith captured more than 173,000 votes in the Florida Democratic Primary, finishing less than 2.5 percent behind Alan Grayson for third place in the Democratic Senate race. The 33-year-old Murphy captured 59 percent of the vote. Grayson finished in second place with just under 18 percent, and Keith, the former Navy JAG officer and Miami-based attorney, came in third with 15.4 percent. And she did that while barely raising $250,000 and airing no television ads.
“I think I conducted myself with grace, and I ran a positive campaign,” said Keith in a phone conversation Wednesday afternoon. “I didn’t spend my time smearing my opponents, and so I know I didn’t win, but I still feel like a winner. Certainly, the feedback I’ve gotten back today has been nothing but positive and encouraging.”
And unlike Grayson, Keith has already endorsed Murphy (on her Facebook page) in his race against Marco Rubio in the general election. “My goal is to make sure that we take control of the Senate and retain the White House, and if I can be helpful, I will be,” she said.
During the heat of the campaign, though, Keith was hardly so sanguine about Murphy, the Democratic Party’s establishment choice from early in 2015. She was particularly piqued when he would not submit to participating in a single debate this summer, despite several media organizations’ attempts to do so. After Grayson’s ex-wife accused the Orlando congressman of domestic abuse, Murphy unilaterally declared he would not debate him, while barely acknowledging he also was blowing off Keith.
“I think that was very wrongheaded,” she said of Murphy’s decision. “What Patrick did was basically take a default position that he had so much of a lead in fundraising and visibility, that the best move for him was to just make sure that nobody else could get any visibility or oxygen, and he would win by default,” she recounts. “And I think that a lot of people who ended up voting for him, voted for him because they didn’t even know that they had another choice, or given the opportunity to see that they had a choice.
“But the name of the game of politics is winning, and his strategy worked, so you can’t fault him for doing what he thinks you need to do to win. I just think that’s not in the interest of voters.”
Perhaps Keith’s biggest moment during her quixotic campaign occurred a few weeks ago, when the Miami Herald editorial board endorsed her for the Democratic nomination, choosing her over Murphy and Grayson. Keith called that unexpected decision “a validation” of her candidacy. “It’s such a respected publication,” she said. “They didn’t do the ‘hey, this is the front-runner thing, so the front-runner gets our endorsement.’ They asked tough questions, and they based their decision on the merits of the answers given by the candidates.”
But for every positive moment like garnering the Herald’s endorsement, Keith continued to feel a lack of respect that comes in part from never having held public office. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel never invited her in for an endorsement interview, she says. Nor did the AFL-CIO. “I can’t say that I was allowed to compete head to head, and I didn’t win. You know, that’s not exactly what happened.”
With a very real chance of recapturing the U.S. Senate this fall, the Democratic Party in Washington and Tallahassee rallied around Murphy immediately after he declared his candidacy for the Senate in the spring of 2015, with Barack Obama and Joe Biden making an unusual endorsement of Murphy early on. At that moment the party wasn’t even attempting to be unbiased in telegraphing who they were pulling for, a charge many Bernie Sanders supporters made about former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the Democratic National Committee frequently over the past year.
“I definitely think the president should not have chimed in this race,” Keith said. “I don’t think the titular head of a party should be endorsing candidates in primaries. I think that’s wrong, and it doesn’t make for a fair race. And if we start to lose faith that we have fair primaries, then we lose something critical, and I’m not sure that it can be fixed in the future if we let it go.”
While some of her supporters are already inquiring about her running for another office in two to four years, Keith said she’s not willing to commit to anything yet — other than that after a year-and-half on the road competing with limited financial resources, she needs a job. “If you know anyone’s hiring?” she laughed, before addressing the disappointment she hears from Florida progressives, not exactly thrilled about a Murphy candidacy.
“In politics, sometimes the candidates you want sometimes don’t win and sometimes things don’t go the way that you want them to, but you gotta keep your eye on the bigger picture, and you must be pragmatic, and there are a lot of things at stake this year, and I don’t want people to use their disappointment or their bitterness to be a block toward making rational choices.
“Our country needs us to be clearheaded, and to be pragmatic, and I’m inviting all my fellow Floridians out there to take heed of that.”