Florida Progressive Democrats Prefer Alan Grayson; Reject Patrick Murphy for Senate

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

The progressive wing of the Florida Democratic Party is pushing liberal Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) instead of Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL) as a potential candidate to replace Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in the Senate. In a conference call Monday morning, a group of leaders and supporters of the “Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida” (DPCF) laid out why they could not support Murphy, harshly criticizing his voting record and public statements.

Speakers on the call also repeatedly mentioned Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in highly favorable terms, but never once mentioned former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Susan Smith, DPCF President, introduced the call by saying the group aims “to maintain but also strengthen the relationship between the progressive community and the Democratic Party.” The progressive movement, she says, is where the “energy” in the Democratic Party is. It’s also the “grassroots muscle” who did the “lion’s share” of volunteer work for campaigns, knocking on doors and making calls.

Progressives need a candidate who is a “bold champion” to inspire them to do this work, said Smith, and not “former Republicans or Democrats who otherwise can’t be distinguished from Republicans.” Smith criticized Murphy for standing with Republicans more than he stood with “the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party.”

As Breitbart News reported, Murphy, who was first elected to Congress in 2012, was a registered Republican as recently as January 2011, and has voted with the GOP on several key issues.

“Patrick Murphy is wrong often more than he is right,” said Smith. “Wall Street Democrats may have settled on Patrick Murphy but progressive Democrats of Florida certainly have not.”

Nancy Jacobson, another DPCF officer, spoke next. She specifically criticized Murphy’s positions on Social Security and Medicare, topics she described as “core principles” for Democrats.

“Patrick Murphy’s stances on Social Security worry me,” said Jacobson, noting that he “often sounds more like Paul Ryan than Elizabeth Warren,” mentioning the budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) which would have instituted changes to Social Security and Medicare funding.

Jacobson added that maintaining the “safety net for seniors” is important for many Florida voters, and she doubted that Florida seniors and grassroots Democrats would support  “a candidate who hedges on our most dearly-held principles.”

Ernie Ciarocchi, the corresponding secretary for the South Shore Democrats, elaborated more on the divide between progressive Democrats and “Wall Street Democrats.”

“It seems to me Patrick Murphy has gone out of his way to make it clear that he is not a progressive Democrat,” said Ciarocchi, but they did not have to accept the “Wall Street Democrats plan to install him” as their Senate nominee.

According to Ciarocchi, Murphy has sided with Republicans on “key votes” twice as often as with Democrats. He specifically mentioned Murphy’s votes in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline and weakening some of the provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial regulations.

Murphy says he is a “business Democrat,” or a “new Democrat,” said Ciarocchi, but “fact is, most of the time, he doesn’t act like a Democrat at all.”

Ciarocchi pointed to the Chamber of Commerce’s support for Murphy as another sign that he was beholden to the big business, Wall Street types funding his campaign. Murphy “has done everything he can to send the message he’s not one of us…maybe Patrick Murphy votes so much like the Republicans because he used to be one.”

Frank Day from the Walton County Democrats challenged the idea that Murphy would be the Democrats’ strongest candidate because he could raise money, again attacking the “Wall Street Democrats” who supported such statements.

“Florida progressives have been urged to ‘think logically’…that Patrick Murphy is as good as we are going to get…our best chance of electing a Senator with a ‘D’ after his name,” said Day.

However, continued Day, Florida voters who are looking for a conservative will no doubt prefer the actual Republican.

“I remember when Florida Democrats were told we had to rally around Crist because we were told he was the only viable candidate that could raise enough money to win.” Charlie Crist had served as Governor of Florida as a Republican, before switching his registration to Independent during the 2010 Senate race that he lost to Rubio, then switching again to Democrat before failing to unseat Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) in 2014.

“You win by giving voters a choice, not by pretending to be something you aren’t,” said Day. “Floridians like bold leaders. Patrick Murphy is neither bold nor a leader.”

On the other hand, continued Day, Alan Grayson deserved their support and would be able to match Murphy’s fundraising prowess. Grayson was a “bold progressive” who the DPCF had “embraced as our choice,” and had “a national fundraising  base” with “over 116,000 regular donors,” that “won’t come with strings attached from Wall Street, Big Oil, or Big Sugar.”

Smith then added some concluding remarks, saying that there were “a lot of reasons that Florida Democrats should be cautious about Patrick Murphy.” The question facing Democrats, according to Smith, was will they work to replace Rubio with someone who will vote like him or “someone who will stand with Elizabeth Warren and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party?”

Adam  Smith of the Tampa Bay Times asked about what would happen if Grayson did not enter the race. Smith said that what they wanted was a strong primary. She added that they had pushed for this in the 2014 governor’s race, but forces had worked against them, and Crist was able to clear the field without having a real challenge. This time around, the DPCF is adamant that it wants a true primary and the issues fully vetted and discussed.

The DPCF conducted a survey of their members, said Smith, and Grayson was the “overwhelming” favorite, because they saw “a real fight in him.”

Celeste Bush, the Chair of the St. Lucie County Democrats, which is in Murphy’s district, challenged the comments that Murphy was not supportive of Social Security and Medicare, saying that he had just supported one change, raising the tax cap to $120,000 to force top earners to pay more taxes to shore up the program. “He’s never voted to cut the program,” said Bush. Smith was not convinced, saying, “we’re going on things he’s said in the past.”

Smith also posted the following statement on the DPCF website:

The Progressive Choice for U.S. Senate

According to our members and supporters, Alan Grayson of Florida’s 9th Congressional District is the clear choice to run for U.S. Senate in 2016. Grayson received more than 63% of the vote. Other candidates with a significant level of support in our recent informal survey were State Senator Dwight Bullard, Congresswoman Kathy Castor and Congressman Ted Deutch.

As the most effective member of the House of Representatives, passing more amendments that any of his 434 peers, Alan Grayson is a populist who knows how to get things done. That’s effective leadership Florida Progressives want to see in the U.S. Senate.

This vote clearly demonstrates that progressive Floridians are looking for a bold champion who will inspire and engage voters. We can’t afford to lose more seats to Republicans by running former Republicans, or Democrats who otherwise can’t be distinguished from Republicans.

Leadership matters, especially at a time when issues like climate change and incoming inequality are pressing down on Florida voters.

The stakes are higher than ever, which means we don’t have the luxury of putting up candidates who don’t know how to fight for their constituents. Alan Grayson is known as a Congressman with Guts for a reason. He has the leadership the DPCF knows can win this Senate seat.

Thank you.

On behalf of the Board of Directors
Susan Smith
Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida

Rubio, as Breitbart News reported, will not be running for reelection to the Senate, but instead will kick off his presidential campaign on April 13 in Miami. CFO Jeff Atwater, Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera are among the list of Republicans rumored to be looking at running for the seat. Atwater is planning to launch his campaign a few days after Rubio’s announcement; López-Cantera’s plans are not known at this time.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.


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