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History shows Patrick Murphy facing tough road in possible 2016 Senate run

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After coming off a significant re-election win last November, word is that two-term U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy could announce a bid for the U.S. Senate by the end of the month.

The Jupiter Democrat has “emerged as the top pick of Senate Democratic leadership,” reported Marc Caputo in POLITICO on Thursday.

Murphy, one of few bright spots for Democrats in 2014, represents Florida’s 18th Congressional District, which covers much of the Treasure Coast. He was re-elected with nearly 60 percent of the vote, in a District that President Barack Obama lost in 2012. He does offer a more moderate voting record: National Journal ranked him 190th (out of 200 Democrats) most liberal in 2013. That could prove helpful in a statewide general election.

In response, the folks at Smart Politics crunched the numbers for Florida U.S. representatives making the transition to a Senate seat.

History shows that Murphy, if he does choose to run, could face a rough road ahead.

Smart Politics found that sitting or ex-Florida U.S. representatives were successful in only two of 17 Senate races since 1970 (11 percent) and four of 21 (19 percent) since the introduction of direct elections a century ago.

In the last four Senate elections, six U.S. House members from Florida have been unsuccessful: Republicans Bill McCollum (2004), Katherine Harris (2006), Dave Weldon (2012) and Connie Mack IV (2012), as well as Democrats Peter Deutsch (2004) and Kendrick Meek (2010).

Over the last 40 years, the list gets even longer: Republicans Bill Cramer (1970), Louis Frey (1980), Bill Grant (1992), and Bill McCollum (2000). For Democrats, it is Bill Gunter (1974, 1980, 1988), Buddy MacKay (1988), and Dan Mica (1988).

In 45 years, two general elections had both candidates facing off – each an important party nominee who already served time in Washington: Republican Connie Mack III, who defeated Buddy MacKay in 1988, and Democrat Bill Nelson, who won over Bill McCollum in 2000.

Before that, only four sitting or former Florida U.S. House members mounted campaigns for the U.S. Senate: Democrats Mark Wilcox (1938), Lex Green (1946), and George Smathers (1950) and Republican Edward Gurney in (1968). Wilcox and Green each lost the nomination, Smathers and Gurney won.

Smathers is the only U.S. representative on the list to beat a sitting incumbent, Democrat Claude Pepper. When Smathers retired, three-term Republican U.S. Rep. Edward Gurney won over Democrat LeRoy Collins by 11.8 points.

One reason for an increased number of Senate candidacies is there is a larger pool of candidates. Smart Politics notes that the Florida congressional delegation has grown in the past five decades, from a dozen in the 1960s to 27 House members now.

The other side is that each House member represents a smaller number of constituents, leaving those who do choose to run for the Senate with shrinking name recognition – an essential factor in any statewide race.

In Murphy’s case, a new Mason-Dixon poll shows he trails incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio by 12 percentage points in a hypothetical 2016 matchup. This compares to 17 percent deficit for the DNC chairwoman and fellow sitting U.S. House member Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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