South Florida Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy has started off quickly in his quest to become the Democratic Party nominee for U.S. Senate in 2016, and the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida (DPCF) has a message to the rest of the party — not so fast.
“When it comes to the race shaping up to replace Marco Rubio, we believe that Floridians are looking for a bold champion who will inspire and engage voters,” said DPCF President Susan Smith in a conference call with reporters on Monday. “We can’t afford to lose more seats to Republicans by running former Republicans, or Democrats who otherwise can’t be distinguished from Republicans.”
Last year progressive Democrats warned the rest of the party that it was foolhardy to back former Republican Charlie Crist in the gubernatorial race, and say it’s deja vu in the party establishment backing the centrist-leaning Murphy for Senate next year. Murphy does represent a conservative district that has supported Mitt Romney and Rick Scott in the only two election contests he’s run in (In 2012 and 2014, respectively).
“He calls himself a business Democrat or a new Democrat, but the fact is, most of the time he doesn’t act like a Democrat at all,” said Ernest Ciarrocchi, corresponding secretary of the South Shore Democratic Club. “Based on his voting record, the U.S. Chamber of Chamber endorsed him in 2014. We all know that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is not a group that ever endorses real Democrats. Patrick Murphy has done everything he can to send the message that he’s not one of us.”
Activists on the call also blasted him for comments he’s made in the past about Social Security and Medicare. “He often sounds more like Paul Ryan than Elizabeth Warren,” remarked Orange County Committeewoman Nancy Jacobson.
But a closer examination reveals that the progressive Democrats have objected more to what Murphy has said he would do to those programs in campaigns than what he’s actually voted for in his short two-and-a-half year career in Congress. And he received backing on the conference call from Celeste Bush, the chair of the St. Lucie County Democratic Party, which is in Murphy’s district.
“We have an awful lot of retired people here and I want to tell you he wouldn’t have won if he didn’t support Social Security,” Bush told DPCF members on the call. She said that the only vote he’s made on Social Security was to raise the caps on taxing those who make more than $120,000 a year. “He’s never voted to cut the program,” she insisted.
Last month U.S. Sen. Warren introduced an amendment to the Senate budget resolution calling for protecting Social Security’s solvency and expanding the program’s benefits. All but two Democrats in the Senate supported the motion, while every Republican opposed it. Susan Smith says that if Murphy is truly as supportive as Bush says he is on Social Security, she’d like to know where he stands on Warren’s amendment. “If he wants to fight for Social Security, let’s see him on the front lines now,” she said.
Along with his centrist voting record, the Florida Democratic Party establishment loves the fact that Murphy, a former Republican who became a Democrat before running in 2012, has shown the ability to be an outstanding fundraiser, collecting $5 million for his successful re-election bid last fall.
That doesn’t impress caucus members, who refer to Murphy as being the choice of “Wall Street Democrats.” They prefer someone like Orlando area U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.
“In terms of viability, a bold progressive such as Alan Grayson, our preferred choice, could match his fundraising, and far outpace him in passion, and boldness in policy understanding,” says Frank Day, former chairman of the Walton County Democratic Executive Committee. “Patrick Murphy will raise his money from Wall Street. Alan Grayson will raise money from people,” Day added, referring to Grayson’s more than 100,000 individual donors across the nation, where he’s become a progressive icon for his frank and cutting remarks about Republicans over the years.
But Grayson hasn’t said he’s committed to running for the Senate. Progressive Caucus members say that while he is their top choice (as voted on in a recent poll), they welcome a contested primary, something they say didn’t happen in the Nan Rich-Charlie Crist gubernatorial primary.