Democrats may or may not have lost the race for Marco Rubio’s open Senate seat but they sure made it harder on themselves. Last Thursday. liberal firebrand Alan Grayson declared for the seat and set up an intra-party feud between the party’s progressive wing and its more pragmatic element. Democrats, hoping to coalesce the party around a young, up and coming centrist Congressman in Patrick Murphy, have seen those hopes dashed.
It should not be forgotten that Republicans have their own primary issues. The party is looking at a three-way battle between Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez Cantera, Jeff Miller and Ron Desantis. Miller and Cantera represent the party’s moderate conservative wing while Desantis is an unabashed member of the Tea Party and it’s House affiliated Freedom Caucus. Also in the ring is former defense contractor and vet Todd Wilcox but it is unclear how much of a factor he will be. Republicans knew their primary would be messy but now they can at least see a bloodied nominee come out on the other side as well.
Grayson and Murphy could not be more different. Grayson is one of the wealthiest members of Congress, is a bombthrower and is over 50. Murphy, in his mid 30’s, is a former Republican turned Democrat who has cultivated a centrist, bipartisan image. If Grayson was willing to engage solely on the issues the party might not be worried. But it is Grayson’s style that particularly worries the party.
In 2009, Grayson rocketed to the top of the progressive blogosphere when he said on the House floor the GOP’s alternative to Obamacare was “Don’t Get Sick! And If You Do Get Sick, Die Quickly!” The move appealed to the party base but few voters in his old district. In a 2010 debate, Grayson referred to his opponent as “Taliban Dan,” trying to insinuate his opponent was an extremist zealot. The move backfired and he was kicked out of office by a wide margin. Grayson now occupies a safe Democratic district he won in 2012 after redistricting.
While Murphy has a wide lead on the fundraising front ($2.5 million raised since he announced) and he has a SuperPAC, Floridians for a Strong Middle Class, backing his candidacy Grayson has the ability to self-fund his campaign. Combined with his former scorched earth tactics he easily has the ability to dig up dirt and attack Murphy relentlessly. Pointing out just how moderate Murphy is could make progressives stay home in November.
Course Grayson has his own issues. First off, Grayson is involved in an ugly divorce with his wife where she has accused him (the 27th richest member of Congress) of not paying child support. Grayson is also facing an ethics probe over his role in managing hedge funds. Lastly, Grayson has never run a statewide race and his record is pretty shoddy. He won a swing district in 2008 by a slim margin, was crushed in 2010 and has occupied one of the strongest Democratic districts in the state for the last two terms.
Most Democrats acknowledge Murphy would be the better candidate. He would have better appeal to the state’s political middle (which favored Obama in 2012) and be able to win moderate Republicans if Desantis comes out of the GOP pack. Meanwhile, Grayson has promised an “unabashed liberal campaign” and that has his supporters arguing he could better turnout the base. In his announcement Grayson said he would follow the “Elizabeth Warren” model and campaign on expanding Medicare and Social Security. He also hits on themes of inequality and increasing the minimum wage.
The messaging war over his candidacy has already begun. Vox Populi Polling, a Republican robopolling firm, conducted a survey last month that was designed to show Democrats how to beat Murphy with negative messaging. The automated poll showed Murphy led Grayson, 34 percent to 24 percent, among Democrats. But after Democrats heard negative messages about Murphy’s votes in Congress and his prior GOP affiliation, Murphy trailed Grayson by a wide margin. Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, conducted a survey of the race in April showing Murphy led Grayson, 23 percent to 14 percent, in a Democratic primary, with 63 percent undecided. Such a large number of persuadable Democrats has both campaigns working overdrive on their message.
Regardless, the road to a victory in Florida continues to run through the I-4 Corridor in Central Florida and the large Cuban Hispanic population in the South. Grayson might play well in Broward but he would likely struggle down the I-4. Murphy would arguably do better in the I-4 but not South as turnout might drop. Benefiting either candidate would be increased turnout from the Presidential race though if Rubio or Bush is the GOP’s nominee it could damage Democratic prospects.. Further, the GOP has done fairly well even in Presidential elections in the state.
Still, all in all, despite their position the GOP has to be happy Democrats are about to endure a dirty primary. Just like they will.