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Tampa Bay Democrats react to Patrick Murphy’s announcement for Senate

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Though he’s hardly a household name in the Tampa Bay area, Democrats in the region are reacting with high praise for Patrick Murphy, the 31-year-old second-term South Florida Representative who announced his candidacy for the 2016 U.S. Senate today.

“I’m a very excited Floridian. I think he’ll be great for the state, and the Democratic Party and the U.S. Senate,” says Tampa based lobbyist and Democratic Party fundraiser Justin Day, who is friendly with Murphy. “He’s the real deal. He’s young, energetic, thoughtful, and most importantly, bipartisan, which the Senate could use a lot more of that.”

“I know him and could not think of a better candidate,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told Florida Politics early Monday. “I think he is positioned perfectly to compete in all areas of the state,  and to bring a common sense, mainstream approach to the Senate.”

It’s not surprising to hear the mayor extoll Murphy’s virtues. The two seem to share a similar philosophy of being centrist Democrats whose appeal transcends party politics.

“I think his background and voting record, his attractiveness as a moderate campaign, is good for our party,” says Tampa Democratic strategist Ana Cruz. “Republicans love to beat up Democrats that we are (big) spenders, that’s the one knock that they have on us…but that’s not the case, and so Patrick really plays into that fiscal moderate candidate that I think will very attractive to Florida voters.”

Murphy is a former CPA who used to be a Republican. But as he told this reporter on Sunday night, the rap that he’s too moderate for Florida Democratic primary voters isn’t accurate.

“I’m a strong supporter of comprehensive immigration reform,” he said. “I vocally supported raising the minimum wage, and voted for it. One hundred-percent I support a woman woman’s right to choose. I support marriage equality. I mean, these are all issues that I’m very vocal about, and a strong supporter of.”

Murphy achieved national fame in political circles for his upset victory over Tea Party favorite Allan West in 2012, in a race that he was outspent by a more than 4-1 ratio. Considered extremely vulnerable in his GOP-leaning district, Murphy raised an astounding $6 million in 2014, and crushed former GOP state legislator Carl Domino.

“He’s got the one quality that we need as Democrats – he can raise a lot of money,” says Democratic political consultant Vic DiMaio.

Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez credits Murphy for doing a “terrific job” in winning in a swing-state congressional district like Florida’s 18th, but says if Alan Grayson does challenge Murphy as expected, “There’s a huge section of Democrats, specifically the liberal wing, that will really jump onto that bandwagon.”

Both Murphy and Grayson have proven to be strong fundraisers. The liberal firebrand told the Hill back in February that “Slate magazine called me the most effective member of Congress, and that puts me in a fundamentally different position than other potential candidates, whether we’re talking about Patrick or Gwen (Graham).”

Gwen Graham is another centrist Democrat who won election to Congress in the Panhandle/Tallahassee area last November. Ana Cruz says she could also be a contender for the Democratic nomination next year.”I think she’s going to get in,” she says.

Vic DiMaio says that the Hillsborough Democratic Party has been working for awhile now on having Murphy address the party at its annual Kennedy-King dinner later this year. “He’s got to come to Hillsborough County,” DiMaio says. “We’re ground zero. You cannot win the state without winning Tampa, without winning Hillsborough County, without winning the Bay area.”

DiMaio also believes that Grayson and/or Graham could get into the Democratic race, but says “Alan will have a tough time getting those middle of the road (voters) to cross over. Independents are the key to winning any election. If you can appeal to the middle, you can win.”

Susan Smith disagrees. The leader of the Democratic Party Progressive Caucus, Smith issued a statement on Monday showing that their organization voted overwhelmingly for Grayson to be their standard bearer. She writes, “Progressives are clearly looking for a bold champion who will inspire and engage voters. We can’t afford to run former Republicans or corporate Democrats who consider themselves “centrists” but who are really “Republican lite.” If we do that, we lose”.

No doubt Patrick Murphy certainly has a lot of work to do in getting his name identification level higher, as a several Democrats that Florida Politics reached out to in the Tampa Bay area admitted they knew little about him and thus couldn’t offer an opinion. That includes St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. Spokesman Ben Kirby says that the mayor hasn’t had the chance to spend any time with Murphy, “but is certainly looking forward to doing so.”

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 mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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