Patrick Murphy announces U.S. Senate bid

murphy, patrick - caricature2

South Florida Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy has formally declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Florida in 2016.

“It just boils down to where I think being in the U.S. Senate, we can really have a great impact,” Murphy told Florida Politics late Sunday afternoon, giving his first interview since declaring he is a candidate for the office.

Murphy becomes the first official entrant from either party to announce intentions for the seat currently occupied by Marco Rubio. The GOP incumbent has been ambivalent about his 2016 plans as he considers a full-fledged presidential bid. That would leave the statewide seat open in a presidential year, a seat Democrats think they have a legitimate shot at.

Statewide Democrats are high on Murphy, who turns 32 next week, and why shouldn’t they? He’s won in a conservative-leaning district, and demonstrated fundraising prowess. If anything definitive about Murphy arose during his first conversation with this reporter, it’s that he’s about being inclusive. He’s a centrist with Democratic Party core values who sounds poised to try to transcend partisan politics,  redolent of Barack Obama’s promise to bring people together in 2007-2008.

“Everybody I’m talking with — Republicans, Democrats, and independents — the common thread is that people are tired of the partisanship, tired of the gridlock up there,” he said. “And that’s something that I campaigned on in my first race several years ago, and something that I’ve at least proven, to show that we can overcome and be someone who reaches across the aisle and get things done.”

Murphy was first won Florida’s 18th Congressional District in 2012, in a narrow victory over the incumbent, Republican Allen West. The race generated national attention. Murphy’s margin was so close over the tea party favorite it was two weeks after the election before West conceded. The outcome fell just short of the .05 percent threshold that automatically triggers a complete recount. It was seen as a major upset, considering that West outspent Murphy by more than a 4-1 margin.

Despite that win, the former CPA was hardly a sure bet in 2014. Only months after defeating West, University of Virginia Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato deemed Murphy “the most vulnerable Democrat” in the country. In November, though, Murphy trounced former state GOP representative Carl Domino by 20 percentage points, after raising $5 million to Domino’s $600,000.

Murphy comes advertised as a centrist Democrat. He criticized President Barack Obama when it came to cutting Medicare Advantage to help pay for the Affordable Care Act. And he was one of only six Democrats in Congress who voted to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress. Some observers think his centrist background could leave him vulnerable from a more liberal challenger in the party. They don’t get much more liberal than U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who has made noises that he’s seriously considering entering the race. Plus, Murphy was a registered Republican before becoming a Democrat.

Asked about some Democrats’ perception he’s too moderate, Murphy said he won a contested Democratic primary during his initial bid for Congress in 2012.

“My stances cut across the political spectrum,” he said. “I’ve made it very clear, No. 1, that I’m a strong supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. I vocally supported raising the minimum wage, and voted for it. One hundred percent I support a woman’s right to choose. I support marriage equality. I mean, these are all issues that I ‘m very vocal about, and a strong supporter of.”

He also said he supports cutting “wasteful government spending” and fixing the tax code, but he didn’t provide specifics.

On immigration reform, he was quick to criticize Rubio, one of the “Gang of Eight,” as among the bipartisan Senate group that led the bill’s passage.

“He was for it, and then he was against it. He came out very vocally against it. So he’s been on both sides of that issue,” Murphy said of Rubio’s leadership on the pivotal issue. He said he hopes House Speaker John Boehner still will bring the bill before the House of Representatives, though that appears unlikely.

Asked about President Obama’s negotiations with Iran on a nuclear deal, Murphy was much more ready to denounce the 46 GOP Senators who joined Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton to sign off on a letter to Iran’s leaders warning that a future U.S. Congress could reverse any nuclear deal. He called it “reckless” and “ill-advised.”

“Anything that’s done as it relates to foreign affairs in such a partisan issue is dangerous,” he said. “Anything that is written to the Ayatollah, only bolsters the credibility of the Ayatollah, and makes it that much tougher for any type of diplomacy to take place. “

He didn’t bite, though, when asked about the division between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Asked whether he would support cranking up sanctions against Iran if no deal is mad, Murphy danced a bit before coming down on supporting more sanctions.

Asked about the Obama administration’s diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba in December, Murphy said, “You have to look at it from several different viewpoints.”

Refering to his talks with the local Cuban community, he said, “A lot of them have really come around to say, ‘You know what? This policy we’ve had for 53 years isn’t working. In fact it’s probably only empowers the current regime down there, and if you really care from the humanitarian perspective about the Cuban people, and helping them out, than we’ve got to change direction here.'”

He then brought up an incident that has slipped under the wire: the Russian spy ship  docked at a Havana port about the same time U.S. State Department officials met with their Cuban counterparts.

“We know exactly what was on that spy ship, and it was to intercept emails and phone calls and conversations,” Murphy said. “So, who do we want there with the Castro regime? Do we want Iran or Venezuela, or Russia? Or would we rather have some more influence with a country 90 miles from our shores? To me, that’s a no-brainer. This is a discussion that I hope continues to take place and continues to move in a direction that the president outlined.”

Florida Politics checked in with a couple of South Florida political analysts about Murphy’s run.

“When it comes to women, and seniors and kids and working families, he’s on the right side of all of those issues, so I don’t see him as a DINO (Democrat in name only) at all,” said a Broward County Democratic consultant now working for a nonprofit and who didn’t want to be identified.

It’s hardly a surprise Murphy’s running, said another Palm Beach County political consultant, since he was spotted last week at a meet-and-greet event held at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C.

“He comes across as likeable, personable, and I can see why I think that in the Democratic party he’s seen a rising star,” Rick Asnani said. He said Murphy crosses party lines in terms of support: “I think that was evident in the 2014 election, and that may have been part of the momentum that generated people taking a closer look at him” for Senate.

CD 18 contains all of St. Lucie and Martin counties and part of Palm Beach County.

Although Rubio has yet to announce his 2016 plans, state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera are considered likely to enter the race on the GOP side if Rubio opts out. A Mason-Dixon poll released this month showed Murphy trailing both Rubio and Atwater by double-digits.

Murphy said the seat is not about Rubio or any other individual who calculated in his decision to run for Senate.

“It’s about a senator who’s going to represent all the people in this state,” he said energetically. “Not just the tea party or not just this small group of people. We need leaders in Washington who will work across the aisle to create jobs, to preserve Social Security and Medicare, to protect the environment, to do the things that Floridians care about, and find those issues that cut across the political spectrum. So yes, I’m not gaming this in my head about who’s going to run, and this is because it’s deep inside me.

“It’s what I’m passionate about and where I think I can make an even bigger difference.”

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at [email protected].


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