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Joe Henderson: In Florida U.S. Senate race, it’s liar versus slacker

It won’t show up on the ballot this way, but the parameters of a likely November showdown between Marco Rubio and Patrick Murphy for a U.S. Senate seat are becoming clear.

Place your “X” for the liar or the slacker.

Rubio will try to win re-election by framing Murphy as a serial fibber who can’t be trusted.

Murphy will try for the upset by framing Rubio as someone who didn’t show up for work because he wasn’t interested in the job he was elected to do, and so he can’t be trusted.

First, there is the matter of the Aug. 30 primary where both candidates face challenges. They appear to have moved well past those skirmishes to the main event, though. The polls indicate that is a safe strategy at this late hour.

At a gathering Monday in Tampa, Murphy wasn’t drawing distinctions between himself and Alan Grayson, his primary opponent. As Mitch Perry of FloridaPolitics.com reported, it was all about Rubio – even though Murphy said, “We don’t take anything for granted.”

Oh yes, he does. Otherwise, he probably wouldn’t have followed that by saying, “Everyone I talk to, whether they’re Republican, Democrat or independent, tell me: Patrick, I want a senator who at least wants the job. Who at least wants to be there to solve our problems.”
In case anyone didn’t get that message, Murphy piled on and said of Rubio, “He’s in this because he wants to run for president again.”

It’s not a bad seed for Murphy to plant in voters’ minds. Rubio’s voting record in the Senate, along with his oft-voiced frustration about the job, is legit fodder for an opponent. As Murphy will repeatedly remind voters, Rubio at first said he wasn’t running for re-election but changed his mind a couple of months ago after Republicans begged him to get into the race.

Rubio’s camp quickly counter-punched Monday with a liar, liar, pants on fire missile.

“Patrick Murphy was caught lying about being a small-business owner himself, making him the last person to know what it takes to help Florida’s entrepreneurs succeed,” campaign spokesman Michael Ahrens told Perry.

Rubio spent part of Saturday in Brandon, a Republican stronghold. He needs to do more of that. Bob Buckhorn, Tampa’s Democratic Mayor, has pressed the attack that Rubio is an absentee representative of the people.

When Rubio was in the process of being routed in the state’s Republican presidential primary, Buckhorn made the point to me that despite his taking several trips to Washington on Tampa’s behalf, Rubio never made time to meet with him. Buckhorn is a staunch supporter of Murphy.

So, who do you trust?

Put another way, who do you distrust least?

The liar?

The slacker?

It’s game on and now we know the plan.

Carlos Beruff knocks Marco Rubio’s attendance in new ad

Marco Rubio’s attendance record is front and center in a new TV ad for Carlos Beruff.

The ad features people talking about Rubio and his time in office, with many saying they were disappointed with the Miami Republican.

“I liked Marco Rubio. When he was running for the Senate originally back in 2010, I liked him a lot,” a man is shown saying in the 30-second spot. “When he got to the Senate, he forgot who elected him and why they elected him. … He didn’t do what he said he was going to do.”

The 30-second spot, called “He Wasn’t There,” shows other people complaining about Rubio’s attendance, with one person saying “If he doesn’t show up, how can I put my trust in him.”

Rubio got hammered during his presidential bid for his poor attendance, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel even called on Rubio to resign because he had missed so many votes.

Rubio faces Beruff in the Aug. 30 Republican primary.

Beruff, a Manatee County homebuilder, has poured a significant amount of his own wealth into the race and has spent heavily on television advertising. But he continues to lag behind in the polls, with a recent Suffolk University poll showing Rubio led Beruff 62 percent to 12 percent.

Joe Henderson: No, Patrick Murphy, you’re not an immigrant

By now, candidates surely must know that everything they say will be instantly analyzed, dissected and, most importantly, fact-checked to make sure they are not fibbing. Outfits like PolitiFact and FactCheck make their living by exposing politicians who are challenged by the truth.

So I can’t understand why any serious candidate would risk the wrath of the truth-sayers and allow themselves to labeled as liars. Consider Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy, for instance.

For context, consider that the latest Quinnipiac poll has Murphy virtually tied with Marco Rubio in the Senate race, assuming both win their Aug. 30 primaries and square off against each other in November. Murphy trailed 48-45 percent, within the poll’s margin of error.

That’s a 10-point pickup for Murphy in the Q-poll since July, likely helped in no small measure by a barrage of TV ads from President Barack Obama on his behalf.

But right away, Murphy gave an opening to those who say he can’t handle the truth.  In an almost offhanded comment during an interview on Fusion TV, he declared, “I am an immigrant.”

No. He is not.

Unless Florida seceded from the Union in the last few years (I think we would have heard about that), Patrick Murphy is a Floridian. He was born here.

For context, the question posed to Murphy was about Donald Trump’s divisive comments regarding immigration. The young would-be senator mentioned the Statue of Liberty, and concluded that answer by adding, “We’re all basically immigrants.”

I guess he was trying to make a point that the United States is a melting pot. So just say that. I mean, I have family roots that trace to Ireland, but that doesn’t make me an Irish immigrant. I was born in Dayton, Ohio – Go Buckeyes!

Anyway, after Murphy made that immigrant remark duty demanded that reporters and snarky columnists revisit other issues where his truthfulness has been examined. In June, a TV report in Miami questioned his experience and credentials as a CPA, or whether he actually owned a small business company involved in the cleanup of the Gulf oil spill.

Murphy’s campaign quickly put out a 7-page point-by-point rebuttal to that story, calling it “deeply false” while also noting an instance where “material was corrected overnight, but that will surely appear in Republican attack ads.”

There you have it, citizens.

Politics is a contact sport, especially at this level. You don’t have to be an experienced politician to be attacked (see Carson, Ben). Opponents will seize on every statement that is open to interpretation and twists it to make you look like a serial liar.

It is the wise candidate who doesn’t give them that opportunity. That candidate realizes that in this world of 140-character instant judgment, the smallest opening can quickly become a chasm.

One explanation for Murphy’s rapid rise in the polls is the fact that Trump is a drag on down-ballot candidates because of his strained relationship with the truth. Couple that with the legitimate questions about Rubio’s performance during his first term as a senator and Murphy has a great chance to win in November.

However, as long as the headlines point out an unforced gaffe like his “immigrant” remark, that chance could become diminished in a most unnecessary way.

Barack Obama sends fundraising email on behalf of Patrick Murphy

President Barack Obama has a question for Florida voters: Can you pitch in a few bucks to help Patrick Murphy?

The campaign is sending out a fundraising email from Obama to supporters Tuesday. While the president has lent his support to Murphy in the past, the email marks the first time he has sent a fundraising appeal to voters in Florida’s U.S. Senate race.

“Patrick’s a strong progressive who’s fought special interests on behalf of working families – and won. In Congress, he’s also fought to strengthen Medicare and Social Security, stand up to the NRA for gun violence prevention, and protect a woman’s right to choose,” the president said in the email. “With all that’s at stake, we need Patrick Murphy in the Senate. But he’ll need your help to get there.”

The email goes on to say Murphy “stands up to Republicans on behalf of our shared values.”

“It’s why they’re attacking him. They know he can win in November, and they’ll spare no expense to defeat him,” he writes in the email.

Both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have endorsed Murphy, a Treasure Coast Democrat, in the U.S. Senate race. Both Biden and Obama have helped raise cash for Murphy’s campaign. The president attended a Miami fundraiser for Murphy in June, and Biden has attended several fundraisers for Murphy, including one in Tallahassee last week.

Obama also cut a campaign advertisement for Murphy, and penned a letter encouraging Floridians to vote for Murphy in the primary.

Murphy faces Alan Grayson and Pam Keith in the Aug. 30 primary. A recent Suffolk University poll showed 36 percent of likely voters said they would vote for Murphy, while 17 percent picked Grayson, an Orlando Democrat. About 2 percent of voters picked Keith, while 40 percent said they were still undecided.

The support from the president and vice president — as well as other establishment Democrats — could be critical come November. Much like Murphy, Sen. Marco Rubio is expected to win his primary. The same Suffolk University poll showed Rubio led his opponent, Manatee County Republican Carlos Beruff, 62 percent to 12 percent.

The general election is expected to be one of the most watched Senate races this election cycle, and outside groups are poised to spend millions of dollars in the Sunshine State. Recent polling averages compiled by RealClearPolitics show Rubio has a slight lead over Murphy.

“It’s more important than ever than we retake the Senate,” said Obama the email to Murphy supporters. “It’s critical to our country’s future — and continuing the progress we’ve made together under our next President. And Florida could be the state that decides it.”

Carlos Beruff compares Marco Rubio to Charlie Crist in new ad

Carlos Beruff is taking a swing at Marco Rubio, comparing him to former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist in his newest advertisement.

The advertisement — a 30-second spot called “Career Politicians” — says the two men are “virtually identical.”

“The anatomy of a career politician: Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist. Heart: The beat of a political opportunist. Mouth: High levels of doublespeak, off the charts,” a female announcer says in the advertisement. “Eyes: Always looking out for themselves. Both subjects abandoned Florida. Conclusion: Rubio and Crist are virtually identical.”

The announcer continues by saying Beruff is “not built that way.”

Crist decided to run for the U.S. Senate in 2010, forgoing a re-election bid. He initially ran as a Republican, but switched parties and ran as an independent. He lost the election to Rubio.

Crist, now a Democrat, is running in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

This isn’t the first time the former Florida governor’s name has been brought up in the 2016 U.S. Senate race. “Florida First Project,” the super PAC backing Rubio, released an advertisement in July calling Beruff a “Charlie Crist Republican.”

“Carlos Beruff is a Charlie Crist insider with a record to prove it. He was a Crist appointee, he and his companies gave over 30 times to Crist, and when Crist abandoned the Republican Party, Beruff continued to support him,” said Michael Ahrens, a Rubio spokesman in a statement Monday. “With a record like that, Carlos Beruff’s ad today is nothing more than a desperate attempt to fool Floridians. Marco is proud to have taken on Charlie Crist and won, saving Florida from the phony politician that Beruff stood by.”

Rubio announced in June he was running for re-election, and has led in the polls ever since. A recent Suffolk University survey showed Rubio led Beruff 62 percent to 12 percent.

A spokesman for the Beruff campaign said the ad began running Friday.

Despite abuse claims, Alan Grayson staying in Florida Senate race

Democratic leaders want Rep. Alan Grayson to go away. His ex-wife says he’s abusive. Ethics questions dog him. Yet the liberal lawmaker is refusing to drop his bid for the U.S. Senate, potentially upending party hopes that moderate Rep. Patrick Murphy will emerge as the nominee against Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Grayson is counting on the party’s most faithful to ignore the negative headlines and look at his record of being a champion of liberal values, as opposed to Murphy, a former Republican who has voted against President Obama on a number of key issues.

“He’s a nobody. Any kind of direct comparison between me and him, he loses,” Grayson said during a telephone interview this week. “There’s no way you can look at Patrick and think that he is anything but a sock puppet for lobbyists and special interests.”

Voting has already started in the Aug. 30 primary, which is being watched nationally as Democrats hope to regain control of the Senate.

As of Thursday morning, about 850,000 vote-by-mail ballots had been distributed to Democrats and about 63,000 votes had been cast. Nearly 21,000 have come from the Tampa Bay area, where Democrats are more moderate, which could help Murphy.

Murphy has his own challenges: He’s still largely unknown to most of Florida’s 4.7 million Democrats, and Republicans have spent $2.5 million on attack ads to define him before his own message gets out, accusing him of embellishing his resume by overstating his work as a certified public accountant and small business owner.

Murphy has a huge fundraising advantage over Grayson, and backing from President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. But if turnout in the summertime primary is low and dominated by the party’s most liberal voters, Grayson could win.

As for Rubio’s primary test, polls put him far ahead of developer Carlos Beruff, who spent millions of his own money campaigning for what initially appeared to be an open seat. Rubio had said for months that he would not seek a second term, but after his presidential campaign failed, he changed his mind at the last minute.

Grayson is more consistent in voting with his party, but some Democrats worry he’s become unelectable.

“Grayson has stepped on his foot here a few times and I don’t think he has any way to get elected. Murphy has a better chance of winning,” said Joe Wells, 84, or Cape Coral. “He’s a little steadier and a little less bombastic and still favorable to my issues.”

Last week, the mother of Grayson’s five children shared four police reports with Politico. In them, Lolita Carson-Grayson told police that Grayson abused her, but none of the claims led to any charges over the years. Grayson countered that he never hit her, and accused her of abusing him and their children.

The couple’s 25-year marriage was annulled last year after it was discovered that she was already married when they wed.

“Voters actually can discern truth from fiction,” Grayson said. “They’ll see through it.”

Grayson has ignored Reid’s latest call for him to quit. Reid made the same request after the House Ethics Committee in April found “substantial reason to believe” Grayson violated federal law and House rules in a number of business and legal activities and in managing his congressional office. Part of that investigation involves an offshore hedge fund managed by Grayson.

The calls for Grayson to drop out have made an impression on Robert Valdez, 20, of Palm Beach Gardens.

“I don’t think he can bring the leadership that Patrick can bring,” Valdez said. “He’ll be a wonderful senator.”

But the terrible headlines haven’t scared off all of Grayson’s supporters.

“We need a long time progressive, someone who’s stood up for many, many years and not someone who jumped on a bandwagon to win an election,” said Tiffany Barnes, 34, of Wakulla County, just south of Tallahassee.

Barnes said she has worked with domestic abuse organizations, knows how women respond to abuse, and doubts Carson-Grayson’s claims.

“It looks more like a political stunt than a woman crying out for help,” she said.

LaVon Bracy, 67, of Orlando, said she used to live around the corner from Grayson and visited the house many times. She knows Carson-Grayson and their children, and said she doesn’t believe the abuse allegations.

“I know him personally, I’ve seen what he’s done for this area, he’s been a great advocate and he’s been a longtime Democrat,” Bracy said. “Murphy, he’s been a Republican most of his life.”

Grayson has aired television and radio ads since November, but in limited buys. Murphy began airing an ad two weeks ago featuring Obama, but hasn’t saturated the state. Both have sought free media coverage.

Murphy is campaigning as if he’s already won the nomination. He canceled the primary’s only scheduled debate, citing the abuse allegations, and has focused his attacks on Rubio.

“Marco Rubio, to me, encompasses everything that’s wrong with Washington, D.C.,” Murphy said. “Florida wants someone who’s going to show up, who’s going to work, who wants the job.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Poll: Marco Rubio has double-digit lead over Patrick Murphy

Marco Rubio is poised to win re-election, according to a new Suffolk University poll.

The survey showed Rubio is walloping Republican Carlos Beruff, with 62 percent of likely Republican voters saying they were leaning toward voting for Rubio in the primary. About 12 percent of respondents said they would vote for Beruff, while nearly 24 percent of voters polled said they were undecided.

The lead over Beruff is unsurprising. Since announcing his re-election bid in June, Rubio has been considered the front-runner in the Republican primary. He’s been racking up endorsements, and has the backing of establishment Republicans.

And when it comes to the general election, Rubio maintains that double-digit lead over both Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson.

According to the poll, 46 percent of respondents said they would pick Rubio in November, while 33 percent said they would vote for Murphy. About 19 percent of likely Florida voters polled said they were undecided.

In a match-up between Rubio and Grayson, Rubio would receive 45 percent of the vote, while Grayson would receive 31 percent. About 22 percent of likely voters said they were undecided.

The seat has become one of the most watched Senate races in the country. Outside groups are prepared millions of dollars on the race, and Republicans have said Florida is critical to keeping control of the Senate.

The survey of 500 likely voters was conducted Aug. 1 through Aug. 3. It has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

Patrick Murphy won’t debate Alan Grayson

Patrick Murphy will not participate in any forums or debates with Alan Grayson amid allegations of domestic violence.

The announcement came as Grayson and Democrat Pam Keith held a press conference at the Palm Beach County Courthouse to call for more debates in the U.S. Senate race.

“Over the last week, I have heard from many people, including survivors of domestic abuse, that Alan Grayson’s continued presence in this race is an insult to the countless Floridians whose lives have been affected by this kind of violence,” said the Treasure Coast Democrat said in a statement. “When a survivor of domestic abuse comes forward, we owe it to them to listen with an open heart.”

POLITICO reported last week that Grayson’s “ex-wife repeatedly went to the police with accusations of domestic abuse.” The accusations, POLITICO reported, were over a two-decade period. Grayson denied those allegations.

In the days following the POLITICO report, Grayson lost a few of his most prominent endorsers. According to the Tampa Bay Times, MoveOn.org, a nationally known progressive organization, is withholding an endorsement in the race in light of the allegations.

“Alan Grayson has refused to address these issues. Alan Grayson’s words have disqualified him from public service, and I cannot in good conscience give him a platform to promote himself and his campaign,” said Murphy. “As result, I will not participate in any forums or debates with Alan Grayson.”

Michael Ceraso, Grayson’s campaign manager, said Murphy was “exploiting this very personal family struggle for his own political gain.”

“Alan Grayson, like all of us, is a flawed individual. But he’s always been driven to help as many people as he can, especially the most vulnerable,” he said in a statement. “The media, in its attempt to cover his often-controversial style, hasn’t always been able to draw a complete picture of the man. Whether it is these allegations, or just his record of legislative accomplishment, the whole story isn’t being told.”

Ceraso said Grayson has discussed “these allegations and any other allegations openly with the press,” and would continue to do so for the rest of the campaign.

The two men were scheduled to participate in a debate Aug. 12. The debate, hosted by Channel 9 Eyewitness News, would have been the sole televised debate between the two men before the Aug. 30 Democratic primary.

Murphy’s campaign did not agree to a debate hosted by WFME, a public radio station Central Florida. That decision prompted the press conference with Grayson and Keith, who were expected to call for more debates.

Ceraso said Keith was “unequivocal” about her willingness to debate Grayson alone or with Murphy.

“Perhaps Patrick Murphy has an issue debating with anyone in this primary, whether it’s Alan Grayson, or the only woman in the race,” he said.

Victims’ advocates were quick to support Murphy’s decision.

“With printed in black and white domestic abuse allegations against Alan Grayson, Patrick Murphy’s decision to pull the plug on a debate planned before this horrid news broke, is the right decision,” said state Sen. Audrey Gibson. “There should be no place on a platform designed to enlighten voters, for that which could potentially further victimize survivors of domestic abuse.”

Victims’ advocates were quick to support Murphy’s decision. In a statement Wednesday, Rep. Kristin Jacobs said the documented claims against Grayson “coupled with his recent statements — namely calling his longtime wife a ‘gold digger’ — disqualify him as a serious candidate.”

“Patrick Murphy’s decision to not give a platform that would legitimize Grayson’s candidacy was a good one and I support him in this,” said Jacobs, who escaped an abusive relationship after 10 years, in a statement. “Grayson’s repeated public statements amount to public bullying and in my opinion disqualify him from serving.”

Lauren Book, an activist who recently won her state Senate race, also said she supported Murphy’s decision, saying “domestic abuse and public bullying has no place in politics.”

“Rep. Grayson has repeatedly attempted to silence his ex-wife’s voice and has engaged in a public shaming campaign in his attempt to discredit her. While we do not know the specific facts behind her allegations during his lengthy marriage, we do know that Rep. Grayson’s attempts to publicly shame his ex-wife of 20 years are disgusting and outrageous,” said Book in a statement. “We need to stand unified against this kind of public bullying and unacceptable behavior from a sitting member of Congress. Grayson needs to end his candidacy for the U.S. Senate.”

Another day, another poll showing Marco Rubio walloping Carlos Beruff

With just 27 days until the primary, a new poll shows Marco Rubio continues to hold a commanding lead over Carlos Beruff.

According to a survey from St. Pete Polls, Rubio leads Beruff by nearly 33 points. The survey found 55 percent of likely Republican primary voters polled would vote for Rubio, while 22 percent picked Beruff.

Nearly 19 percent of respondents said they would choose someone else in the Republican U.S. primary, while about 5 percent were undecided.

Rubio, a Miami Republican, has been leading in the polls since he announced he was running for re-election in June. He is believed to be the favorite in the race, and has the support of many top Republicans.

Rubio has strong support across all demographics. The survey found 69 percent of Hispanic voters said they would vote for Rubio, while about 13 percent said they would vote for Beruff. Rubio also saw strong support among millennial voters, with 67 percent saying they would vote for him.

Millions of voters have already received their absentee ballots, and thousands of ballots have already been cast ahead of the Aug. 30 primary.

The survey was conducted on Aug. 2, and polled 1,835 likely Republican primary voters through an automated calling system. Voters were chosen at random from the state’s registered voting lists. The margin of error is 2.3 percent.

Joe Henderson: Jim Norman’s climb to Hillsborough Commission steeper than he realized

Since the start of his campaign for Hillsborough County Commission District 6, Jim Norman has understood that he has a lot of explaining to do.

Right off the bat, he tried to address his checkered political past during a meeting last year with The Tampa Tribune editorial board.

As a metro columnist for that late, great newspaper, I sat in on the meeting.

I think it was basically a fiasco.

It’s not that Jim Norman isn’t one of the most likable people on the surface that you will ever meet. He is a salesman, and the product is himself. But as he hawked his wares that day, it kept coming back to that suspect deal where the late power broker and businessman Ralph Hughes gave Norman’s wife a $500,000 personal loan to buy some fancy digs in Arkansas.

Hughes was notable for, among many other things, having his name removed from the county’s “Moral Courage Award” following a public outrage. Norman was the commissioner who nominated him.

When details of the housing transaction became public, Norman – by then a rising power in the Florida State Senate – saw his political future dashed on the rocks. That was in 2012. He decided, wisely, not to run for re-election to the Senate, where it is entirely possible he would have been the president. That could have set him up to run for governor or even the U.S. Senate.

Instead, he is running now for a seat on the county commission, where he served 18 years before moving on to Tallahassee. His campaign began amid some fanfare, with donors pledging more than $100,000 in the first two months, about four-fifths of that in September.

One of the $1,000 donations came from Cast-Crete, a company Hughes owned.

Since then Norman has hit a wall, raising only about $20,000 as questions about his electability increased.

Republican challenger Tim Schock has all the momentum now for the Aug. 30 primary. Schock won the endorsement of the Tampa Bay Times and Monday, as reported by FloridaPolitics.com reporter Mitch Perry, basically doubled up Norman in a straw poll at the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Political Hob Nob.

Unscientific or not, the poll showed the hill Norman has to climb may be steeper than even he realized.

During that meeting last year at the Tribune, Norman tried to confront his history. He quickly pointed out that he had passed a polygraph regarding his wife’s arrangement with Hughes, and the U.S. Attorney’s office investigated and decided to charge Norman with any wrongdoing.

It still looked, and looks, fishy.

At least as big an issue, though, is Norman’s record on the commission. He voted consistently in favor of developers, while helping turn Hillsborough into a misshapen hodgepodge of subdivisions, strip malls and car-clogged roadways.

He said he will do things differently this time if elected.

Although it was generally assumed Norman would be a formidable candidate, it is starting to look like he might not get that chance.

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