Rep. Murphy to Challenge Sen. Rubio

By Jim Ellis

Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Winter Park)

May 14, 2021 — According to the Axios news site, insiders close to Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Winter Park) say that she has made the decision to challenge Sen. Marco Rubio (R) next year and will formally announce her campaign next month. The move had been expected for some time.

Rep. Murphy, a native of the country of Vietnam, was first elected to the House in 2016, defeating veteran Republican incumbent John Mica after the state Supreme Court had re-drawn the Florida congressional districts and made the 7th CD more Democratic. She unseated Rep. Mica 51-49 percent, and then scored re-election victories of 58 and 55 percent in 2018 and 2020, respectively.

A strong fundraiser, Rep. Murphy obtained over $3 million for both of her incumbent re-election campaigns. She ended the 1st quarter 2021 with a cash-on-hand figure of $1.43 million. Sen. Rubio posted $3.9 million in his campaign account during the same reporting period.

Assuming Murphy does enter the race next month, Democrats will have a credible challenger to Sen. Rubio, but one who still must be considered a decided underdog. In 2010, Sen. Rubio, then a state representative, defeated then-governor Charlie Crist, who was running as an Independent, and Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek by a 49-30-20 percent margin. He was re-elected in 2016 with a 52-44 percent vote spread over then-congressman Patrick Murphy (D).

Florida races, as we know, are always competitive and usually very close, though the state has been trending more Republican over the past several elections. A Rubio-Stephanie Murphy race promises to become a national campaign.

With the Democrats apparently attracting a strong candidate in Florida, it is a good time to review the other key races.

In Pennsylvania, both parties are headed for very crowded primaries as each works to nominate a candidate to hopefully succeed retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R). Afghan War veteran Sean Parnell entered the Republican primary earlier this week, but his only venture into elective politics was recording a two-point loss to Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pittsburgh) last November in an Allegheny County suburban district.

Rep. Lamb, himself, may join the Democratic Senate campaign, meaning both parties are going to host political dogfights for the party nomination. In any event, however, the Pennsylvania race will be a top-tier national campaign.

Ohio Democrats are coalescing behind Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Warren/Youngstown) in the open Senate campaign. Republicans look like they could evolve into at least a four-way race among former state Republican Party chair Jane Timken, ex-state treasurer and 2012 Senate nominee Josh Mandel, author J.D. Vance, and probably former US representative and 2018 Senate nominee Jim Renacci. Still others, such as Rep. Mike Turner (R-Dayton) could also enter the race.

The open Republican North Carolina seat could feature party nominees who each lost a bitterly close statewide election as incumbents. Former governor Pat McCrory (R), who fell to Democrat Roy Cooper by less than half a percentage point in the 2016 governor’s campaign, is the leading early Republican candidate, and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who lost her position in November by just 401 votes statewide, could well become the 2022 Democratic Senate nominee.

At this point, Beasley’s main Democratic competition is state Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-Charlotte). McCrory faces intra-party challenges from Rep. Ted Budd (R-Advance) and former congressman Mark Walker.

The open Missouri race should be safely Republican, but a crowded GOP primary could allow scandal-tainted former governor Eric Greitens an avenue to win the party nomination. Should that happen, Missouri becomes competitive. So far, however, the only credible announced Democrat is former St. Louis area state senator Scott Sifton, though former governor Jay Nixon is rumored to be considering joining the open Senate race.

The battle for the Republican nomination to oppose Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) will be competitive, and most observers are watching whether Georgia football legend Herschel Walker will return to the state and enter the Senate Republican primary.

In Arizona, look for Attorney General Mark Brnovich to soon enter the Republican primary in order to challenge Sen. Mark Kelly (D). The Grand Canyon State Senate race will again become a major battleground venue.

Eyes remain on senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) to see if they will seek re-election or retire. Democrats will compete for both seats regardless of the situation.

In Iowa, Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Des Moines) is a possible contender as is state Auditor Rob Sand, and possibly former governor Chet Culver.

Milwaukee Bucks basketball club executive Alex Lasry, Wisconsin state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson are vying for the Democratic Senate nomination, and this race will be competitive whether or not Sen. Johnson decides to run.

National Republicans hope to convince New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu to challenge first-term Sen. Maggie Hassan (D). If the governor decides to run for the Senate, this could become the Republicans’ best conversion opportunity.

Nevada is turning in very close election results recently, which should give Republicans hope against first-term Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D). No one has yet come forward to enter the race, however. Same for the Democrats in Alabama, as Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) and former Ambassador Lynda Blanchard are at this point solely battling for the Republican nomination.

We can expect these and possibly other races to become the major campaigns as both parties fight to break the Senate’s 50D-50R tie.

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