Senate races

Senate battle for Florida Dems?

Greg Nash

Senate Democrats landed a star recruit on Monday, when Florida Rep. Patrick Murphy jumped into the race for Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R) seat, but he might not have a clear primary field.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), a progressive champion with a penchant for dubious remarks, told The Hill Monday he’s still “very interested in running,” and promised that the two-term congressman’s decision to run won’t “in the least” influence his own decision-making.

{mosads}Grayson is likely the only candidate left who could give Murphy a tough challenge in the primary. Other big-name politicians, including Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and former Gov. Charlie Crist, recently ruled out bids. 

If the controversial Grayson does decide to run, he could give Democrats fits in a top-targeted state that’s crucial to their hopes of winning back the Senate and keeping the White House.

Establishment Democrats are abuzz about Murphy, seeing the 31-year-old former accountant and businessman as an ideal candidate. But the same characteristics that have them excited — his age and centrism — are a double-edged sword if he faces a tough primary.

Grayson is already positioning himself to Murphy’s left, as he gears up for a run. If he can catch fire with liberal activists, as he’s done before, he could be a big problem for Murphy and the party establishment.

“The Senate needs a strong progressive who can get things done. I’ve passed more amendments than any member of the House, Democrat or Republican, and I did that without compromising my progressive principles,” said Grayson. “The grassroots wants me to run.”

Grayson boasted that he had 116,000 individual donors back him in his previous race, claiming that made him the Democrat with the fourth-largest donor base behind President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).

Murphy has also proven to be an exceptionally strong fundraiser — he brought in more than $5 million for his 2012 race to unseat then-Rep. Allen West (R). His prodigious fundraising and personal wealth helped him scare off any serious opponents last year.

The Palm Beach congressman described himself as a “consensus builder” and “an independent voice for Florida” in his campaign announcement.

Murphy allies point to his win over the firebrand West and subsequent reelection in a GOP-leaning suburban swing district to argue that he’s a battle-tested candidate who has statewide appeal. 

But he’s also broken with his party on some big votes. His voting to delay the implementation of parts of ObamaCare fails to endear him to liberal activists within the party.

Ultimately, Florida Democrats are worried a competitive primary could cost them a chance at a top-tier race, especially with Rubio likely to run for president and a crowded GOP field taking shape to replace him.

“If we can avoid having to spend money in a primary and focus on the general election that would be an excellent thing for our chances of being able to win the seat,” said Florida Democratic Party Vice Chairman Rick Boylan. 

“Both [Murphy and Grayson] have the ability to raise good money in order to be competitive, but whether they can raise enough to be competitive in a primary and then a general election would be pushing it pretty far.”

Many in the Democratic establishment moved quickly to trumpet Murphy’s candidacy, a sign they might close ranks around him.

“Patrick Murphy is a champion for middle class families, and his commonsense approach to the tough issues facing Florida and our country has earned him praise from all corners,” Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant said in a statement. “I am glad Patrick has joined the race for the Democratic nomination to challenge Marco Rubio.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), which met with Murphy last week and has a meeting scheduled with Grayson this week, also praised Murphy as “a strong candidate with a record of serving the people of Florida.”

But not all Democrats were singing the same tune — Wasserman Schultz, a friend of Grayson’s, said she expected a “robust primary” when asked about the race on Sunday in a local TV interview before talking up Democrats’ “deep bench” in the state.

In an interview with Politico, however, earlier this month, DSCC Chairman Jon Tester (Mont.) said he didn’t “know that a primary helps us” in Florida and went on to say Murphy would be “a great senator.”

Grayson’s personal life could prove problematic in the race. He’s currently going through a messy divorce that has featured nasty charges on both sides — he’s accused his wife of bigamy as he seeks to avoid giving her alimony, and she’s accused him of spousal abuse. That could turn into a big weakness in a primary and might make him toxic in a general election — and potentially put other Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, in an awkward position as they campaign in the state if he’s the nominee.

Grayson said his personal life wouldn’t hurt his run.

“We just went through this in November, all the intimation was before the voters, and I won again by double digits. In Orlando, there’s been a lot of publicity about my personal life, and I still won by double digits,” he told The Hill. “That experiment has already been run; you can see the results for yourself.”

Grayson says he has no timeline for a decision, though he indicated he would wait some time before deciding.

Many Democrats are hoping they can still avoid a primary. But they admit that no one’s going to scare Grayson away if he decides to run.

“The only person who’s going to make up Alan’s mind is Alan Grayson,” said Alan Clendenin, a major Florida Democratic donor who is backing Murphy in the race. “I don’t believe he’s someone people could muscle out of the race. He’s a strong personality.”

Tags Alan Grayson Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Jon Tester Marco Rubio

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video