Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy’s decision to run in Florida’s 2016 Senate election makes yet another swing state race competitive. Democrats, fresh off losing their Senate majority a mere five months earlier, now have strong challengers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and likely Wisconsin with more possible in Illinois, New Hampshire and Iowa.
Republicans know that Murphy poses a serious challenge. The one time Republican turned centrist Democrat is a perfect fit for the state’s moderate profile and could be boosted by Presidential year turnout. Further, with Rubio exploring a potential Presidential run the GOP needs to be ready to defend the possibly soon to be open seat.
Fortunately, the GOP has two ready candidates waiting in the wings, Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera and state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. In a recent Mason Dixon poll Atwater posted a 14 point lead over Murphy. If Rubio opted to run for reelection he would also be considered a heavy favorite.
Murphy has an interesting biography. Originally a Republican, he became a Democrat over cultural issues and challenged Allen West when the Congressman was redistricted into a new seat in 2012. Boosted by minority turnout, Murphy pulled off the narrow upset. He followed it up with a 60% showing in 2014 against a little known GOP challenger.
But Murphy may not have the Democratic field all to himself. Despite efforts by the Democratic establishment to clear Senate primaries (success in WI, OH and PA, not so much MD and IL), a number of more liberal alternatives have floated their names including mayors Bob Buckhorn in Tampa, Buddy Dyer in Orlando, and Alvin Brown in Jacksonville.
Worse, from the establishment’s perspective, is the prospect of two wings of the Democratic Party facing off against each other in the form of Murphy (centrist) vs. Alan Grayson (progressive). Grayson you might recall is the colorful Democrat who in his first reelection bid in 2010 called his GOP opponent “Taliban Dan.” Grayson is a friend of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz who briefly contemplated running for Senate and made clear she is not a fan of Murphy.
Fortunately for the GOP, they do not suffer from the same ideological split. Further, both Lopez and Atwater have run two successful statewide campaigns although both were in midterms and for executive state offices as opposed to federal. Still, they have statewide campaign experience giving them a leg up on Murphy.
The GOP might find an added benefit in having Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio top the ticket in the open seat race. Both Bush and Rubio have an appeal to the Latino community in the state no other GOP candidate, even Lopez, can likely match. Any help atop the ticket likely would carry down-ballot GOP candidates across the finish line.
Combined with PA, OH, WI, and likely IL Democrats should cheer the number of strong candidates they have recruited for Senate challenges. Florida is one more feather in their cap but winning these races will be much, much more difficult than recruitment.