Politico is reporting that Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18) will announce a bid for the US Senate on March 23, giving us one more clue that Sen. Marco Rubio (R) will likely not seek re-election.
Murphy was first elected to the House in 2012, a post-redistricting upset winner against first-term Rep. Allen West (R) in a seat that should routinely elect more Republicans than Democrats. Last November, Murphy scored a solid 60-40 percent win over former state Rep. Carl Domino. The congressman raised and spent over $5 million in his re-election effort, proving that he has strong appeal within the Democratic donor community.
Sen. Rubio has been saying for months that he will not simultaneously attempt to run for president and re-election. More speculation is building that he will soon announce a presidential bid, thereby retiring from the Senate after one term. An open seat in swing Florida, arguably the most important state on the presidential election map, is a major negative for national Republicans but leaving the Senate is quite probably a strong personal move for Rubio, if his ultimate desire is to be elected president.
It appears the Democratic establishment is poised to support Murphy, whose more moderate record would make him a strong general election candidate but leaves him vulnerable in the party primary. Originally, representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL-23), the Democratic National Committee chair, and Alan Grayson (D-FL-9) were publicly contemplating running for the Senate, but now both appear to be backing away.
Wasserman Shultz has been the subject of political slings and arrows of late from people and groups who should be her allies. She is embroiled in controversy with the top supporter of the 2014 medical marijuana initiative that 58 percent of voters backed but failed because it did not achieve 60 percent of the vote. In Florida, initiatives are only enacted if they attract more than 60 percent voter support.
The congresswoman is also criticized for her party leadership, with key Democrats expressing the belief that self-promotion drives her decisions rather than President Obama’s political interests or advancing the party forward. Under major public attack for the first time in her career, Wasserman Schultz is now silent about embarking upon a statewide campaign.
Rep. Grayson is involved in a messy divorce with his wife that has involved her claiming physical abuse – accusations proven false – while he counterattacks saying that his spouse was a bigamist. There is doubt as to whether Lolita Grayson had legally divorced her first husband when she and the future congressman originally married. Though Grayson, often depicted as loose cannon, still could enter the Senate campaign the chances of him doing so are lesser now than they were last month. He originally said he would step aside for Wasserman Schultz, but with Murphy gaining strong support signals from the key Democratic leaders and institutions, the probability of Grayson becoming a Senate candidate isn’t as strong as it was earlier.
Should Rubio run nationally, a cavalcade of Republicans are expected to step forward to succeed him, thereby making the party’s task of holding the seat in the general election more difficult. It would greatly damage the GOP to become bogged down in an internal fight through the end of July 2016, with little time left to battle Murphy and a united Democratic Party.
Attorney General Pam Biondi will be someone to whom Republican leaders will immediately look. She may want to wait for an open governor’s race in 2018, but certainly she would be a strong entry in this election cycle.
From the congressional delegation, representatives Jeff Miller (R-FL-1), Ron DeSantis (R-FL-6), John Mica (R-FL-7), and Vern Buchanan (R-FL-16) have all expressed interest in a Senate race at one time or another. Former representative and current Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is another individual whose name will be mentioned. He is another potential candidate for governor in 2018, but an open Senate seat now could be enticing particularly when the statewide positions do not have to be relinquished to run.
Should Sen. Rubio retire, the open Florida Senate campaign will immediately move to the top of both parties’ competitive race charts.