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Bob Buckhorn embraces Patrick Murphy’s ideology as he gives his endorsement in Tampa

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.Although he didn’t call Patrick Murphy his “soulmate” today, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn otherwise gave as full throated endorsement as any politician can  when he announced his full-fledged support for South Florida U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy in next year’s race for Senate.

“I think he is where I am ideologically — which is in the center of that spectrum,” Buckhorn said of Murphy’s centrist political leanings at a press conference held in Curtis Hixon Park. The two were also in synch sartorially, both donning light blue suits with matching green ties.

The just turned 32-year-old Murphy was a Republican CPA just a few years ago, but after he switched parties and defeated Tea Party cult hero Allen West in the CD 18 race along the Treasure Coast in 2012, he automatically gained notice around the state with a party lacking bench strength. The victory was impressive in that it came in a GOP-leaning district where he was outspent by more than a four-to-one ratio.

He further impressed Democrats in the state and in Washington last year after he easily beat back Republican Carl Domino by 20 percentage points, raising more than $5 million in his re-election effort.

“I’m a CPA. I’m a small business person,” Murphy told reporters by way of an introduction. “The reason I decided I wanted to run for the U.S Senate is because I’m tired of complaining, and I believe I can make an even bigger difference by being in the U.S. Senate on the issues that I’m so passionate about,” he said. Those issues include protecting the environment, fighting for the middle class and making sure that Social Security and Medicare remain available for future generations.

Buckhorn said Murphy’s centrist philosophy and ability to raise money make him an up-and-coming star in the state party.

“I think ideologically he is exactly where most Floridians are,” Buckhorn said in introducing Murphy in a humid but still relatively nice morning inside the downtown Tampa’s signature park.

“We are not a state of extremes – we’re a state in the middle – a little center-right, a little center-left, we are people who care about getting things done in Washington, D.C.,” the mayor said. “Clearly that is not happening now. We care about the environment, we care about growing the economy, we care about growing jobs, we care about supporting businesses, we care about practical, pragmatic solutions that face this country and I think Patrick Murphy is exactly the guy who not only can win in 2016, but can represent Florida in the tradition of Lawton Chiles, Bob Graham, Reubin Askew and Bill Nelson.”

Murphy’s appearance in Tampa was his first since declaring his candidacy two weeks ago. Since that time he has received many major endorsements, and not just from centrists like Buckhorn but from full-fledged liberals like Frederick Wilson, Ted Deutsch and Alcee Hastings, all members of the Florida congressional delegation.

Those endorsements are key because not every Democrat in the state is rallying behind Murphy. On Monday the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida held a conference call, denouncing Murphy as a “Wall Street Democrat.”

The caucus kept it up on Tuesday, issuing a press release just moments before the press conference where it castigated Buckhorn as “flip-flopping on party flippers,” referring to the mayor’s criticism of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist last year “as an opportunist who should not be trusted because he switched parties just to run for office.”

But the caucus now says that Buckhorn is “embracing Patrick Murphy, who did the same thing.”

“Absolutely I’m embracing Patrick Murphy,” Buckhorn replied, adding that, “I’m not worried about what various wings of the Democratic Party say. My commitment is to Patrick Murphy. I think he is exactly where Floridians are. I think he‘s a candidate who can win; I think he’s a candidate that doesn’t cater to extremes of either side, and I think that’s where most of us are, and I think that’s a winning formula.”

The Progressives favor Orlando-area U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson to compete against Murphy for the nomination, but Grayson says he’s in no hurry to enter the race.

Although the elite in the Democratic Party favor him, the fact is that most people aren’t familiar with Murphy outside of South Florida. He said today that he’ll be spending a lot of time traveling up and down the state over the next year and a half.

“I believe, if we get our message out, and I think we’ll be able to, voters will relate,” he said. “They’re going to see that it’s not about necessarily the left and the right, it’s about getting things done, solving problems.”

Murphy will return this Friday afternoon for a fundraiser in downtown Tampa, where among those listed on the invitation is Mayor Buckhorn.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the 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. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at [email protected]

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