Senate races

Fla. liberals want alternative to Murphy

Greg Nash

Some progressives in Florida are pushing for a liberal challenger to Rep. Patrick Murphy, the centrist Democrat who is so far running unopposed for his party’s nomination for the 2016 Senate race.

On Monday, a handful of progressive activists in the state, led by Susan Smith, the president of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, held a conference call arguing that Murphy isn’t a committed advocate for programs that progressives hold dear, such as Social Security and Medicare.

{mosads}“We cannot afford to replace Marco Rubio with another senator who will stand with the Republican caucus more than the [Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth] Warren wing of the party,” Smith said. “Patrick Murphy is wrong more often than he is right. Wall Street Democrats may have settled on him, but progressive Democrats certainly have not.” 

The group argued that in 2012 Murphy signaled he’d be open to making cuts to Social Security as part of a budget deal with Republicans. They also said he bucked the party by supporting the Keystone XL pipeline, backing efforts to weaken Dodd-Frank and being open to expanding the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest.

“He often sounds more like [Wisconsin GOP Rep.] Paul Ryan than Elizabeth Warren,” said Nancy Jacobsen, a member of the Democratic National Committee.

On Monday’s call, the progressives got some pushback when Celeste Bush, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party in St. Lucie County, which Murphy represents, accused the group of misrepresenting Murphy’s record.

“He wouldn’t have won if he didn’t support Social Security … he never voted to cut the program,” Bush said, arguing that Murphy merely wanted to raise tax caps on the program, which would lead to wealthy people contributing more.

“We’re going based on things he’s said in the past,” Smith responded. “If he really wants to fight for Social Security, let’s see him on the front lines in the battles. … We’re looking for that kind of leadership, so we challenge him to do that now, to get out in front and show us you can be a champion, because we haven’t seen it so far.”

Expanding Social Security and Medicare has become a mainstream position among many Democrats, and it’s so far been a flashpoint for activists on the left early in the 2016 campaign cycle. 

For instance, in the Maryland Senate race, progressive groups have lined up behind Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) over establishment favorite Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

The progressive groups have similarly accused Van Hollen of being soft on entitlement programs, although he has pushed back hard against that notion, arguing that he’s been a leader in the House in protecting Social Security and strengthening Medicare.

Murphy spokesman Richard Carbo told The Hill in an email that Murphy has long been an advocate for Social Security and other liberal causes, like protecting the environment.

“Patrick Murphy is the Democrat that is going to help take back the Senate,” Carbo said. “That is echoed by the strong slate of Democrats around the state who are lining up to support his campaign. He’s opposed any efforts to weaken Social Security, led over 200 members of Congress fighting to protect Medicare, and has been recognized as a Champion of the Everglades for his work to protect our environment. These are the Democratic principles Floridians want in their next US Senator.”

The Democratic establishment in Florida has been lining up behind Murphy, a two-term congressman, proven fundraiser and rising political star in the state.

However, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), a liberal firebrand with considerable fundraising prowess and national name recognition, could be a formidable challenger to Murphy from left if he decides to run.

Grayson says he is considering a bid but will take his time deciding on whether to get into the race.

Smith on Monday said Grayson has consistently shown the kind of fight “we think is needed.”

Another progressive on the call, Frank Day, a former Walton County Democratic committeeman, noted Grayson’s considerable base of fundraising support from small-dollar grassroots liberals and argued that the liberal firebrand would “far outpace Murphy in passion, boldness and understanding of foreign policy.”

“Unlike Murphy, Grayson’s campaign cash won’t come with strings attached from Wall Street,” Day said.

Democrats like their chances at winning Sen. Marco Rubio’s Senate seat in 2016. Rubio has said he won’t run for president and Senate reelection simultaneously. He is believed to be announcing a White House bid next Monday.

Potential GOP candidates in Florida are waiting for Rubio to make it official before getting into the race. 

According to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Monday, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater would perform the best head-to-head against Murphy. Atwater leads Murphy by 4 percentage points and Grayson by 10.

Tags Alan Grayson Elizabeth Warren Florida Senate Marco Rubio Patrick Murphy Paul Ryan
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