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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Scenes from Alan Grayson's campaign bus chronicle the firebrand would-be senator's downfall

Posted By on Thu, Sep 1, 2016 at 2:15 PM

Page 4 of 5

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOEY ROULETTE
  • photo by Joey Roulette
Party leaders, desperate to regain control of the Senate, thought they saw an opening when Marco Rubio announced for President – and said unequivocally that he would not run for re-election. Even more so when a weak, divided Republican primary field emerged to replace him.

If the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had used Amazon Prime to order an ideal candidate to pick up a seat in a swing state, Patrick Murphy would have been delivered to their doorstep the next day. In 2012, the former Republican and moderate liberal took a Congressional seat from Tea Party crackpot Allen West, a campaign bankrolled by Murphy’s construction magnate (and still Republican) father, Thomas Murphy Jr. In the Senate race, the personable, attractive, young Murphy – Grayson’s polar opposite – relies on his father for financial backing. The elder Murphy has been willing to continue opening his wallet to support his son’s political career, to the tune of more than $1.5 million to two Murphy for Senate PACs, according to the latest FEC filings.

The Democrats’ national party leadership pulled out all the stops for Murphy: endorsements from President Obama, Vice President Biden, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and his likely successor, Charles Schumer. They have appeared at his fundraisers, yielding a combined $10 million war chest, including more than $1.5 million from Wall Street donors. This has enabled Murphy to hire a hefty, protective, campaign staff. Obama cut two television spots for Murphy, which began airing in mid-July, and haven’t stopped.

Biden has made three trips to the state to appear with Murphy. Two influential, liberal unions, the NEA and SEIU, added their backing. On August 8, Orlando’s Buddy Dyer became the 22rd Florida mayor to endorse Murphy, joining most of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation. Most recently, the Congressional Black Caucus announced it was supporting Murphy, raising questions about Grayson’s ability to mobilize one of his core constituencies in the primary.

And yet, for all of this muscle – all the king’s horses and all the king’s men – polls in the first seven months of 2016 show no significant – or even consistent – rise in Murphy’s numbers. He fails to open a dramatic lead against Grayson. A Quinnipiac poll released August 11 finds Rubio ahead of Murphy, 48-45; and Rubio ahead of Grayson, 49-43. Another, from Monmouth University, released August 17, puts Murphy’s support against Rubio at 43 per cent, and Grayson’s at 39 per cent – the abuse charges notwithstanding.

Despite his expert handling, Murphy proves to be a dud as a campaigner, and an elusive one at that. An amiable if uninspiring speaker, he is prone to malapropisms. Murphy eschews town hall appearances where he would have to face unscripted questioners, as well as any debates, with good reason. At one of Murphy’s rare public appearances, at a Broward County Democratic club meeting, a Grayson supporter is ejected after asking why Murphy would not debate.

All of this leads the Miami Herald to ask, in a headline, “Is Patrick Murphy avoiding voters?” Grayson regularly refers to Murphy as “the boy in the bubble.” Even Murphy backer Alex Sink, the state’s former chief financial officer and gubernatorial nominee, says at a Tampa television forum on the campaign that it is “bad for democracy” that Murphy won’t debate Grayson. “The optics look bad, I believe, for our candidates not to be willing to get up in front of the public and let the voters decide for themselves.” Without irony, Murphy then criticizes Marco Rubio for refusing to meet with newspaper editorial boards.

Earlier, Florida television stations and newspapers report that Murphy has padded his academic, professional and environmental resumes. The latter reminds people that in Congress he voted for the Keystone XL pipeline. This prompts the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza to write that Murphy had “The Worst Week in Washington.” Various Republican campaign committees, together with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, pound Murphy with negative TV ads. One attacks him for cruising on the family yacht off Nantucket in the midst of the algae bloom crisis, reinforcing the image of a spoiled frat boy.

However, for his part, Grayson has been even less sure-footed. He has been embroiled in nonstop personal and political controversies for more than a year: the messy dissolution of his marriage, in which he dismissed the mother of his five children as a “gold digger”; House ethics charges growing out of a Cayman Islands hedge fund; a mishandled Presidential endorsement, first seeming to support Clinton, then, belatedly, and after an internet poll of his backers, pledging his convention Super Delegate vote to Sanders; and the departure of several high-level campaign staff members, well before the abuse charges surface. He also cursed out a Tampa reporter, and lashed out at MSNBC host Joy Reid when she asked him about the hedge fund. Any of these could have torpedoed a conventional candidate.

Yet despite all this, Grayson’s support in the early polls has remained more or less constant. Until the abuse allegations, Grayson remained close to the margin of error to Murphy, with both candidates in the 30-35 per cent range. More than a third of registered Democrats remained undecided on the contest. It may be that, like Donald Trump’s supporters, a core of Grayson’s backers simply don’t care about – or believe – the negative publicity about their champion.

Still, in light of the abuse allegations against Grayson, Murphy remained the percentage bet to win the nomination. As the days leading up to the primary dwindle the assumption is strong that Murphy has it sewed up. So much so that in July and August the NBC/Wall Street Journal Marist polls don’t even include Grayson in its hypothetical match-up with Rubio, following the Republican’s return to the race. On Aug. 19, in a sign of confidence, the Murphy campaign pulls $800,000 in pre-primary television ads, according to Politico, claiming an internal poll taken after the abuse charges put Murphy up 20 points. In the last week of the campaign, Grayson is reduced to trotting out old Congressional endorsements from Martin Sheen (The West Wing’s beloved President Bartlet), Danny Glover and Michael Moore.

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