During his two terms in Congress, Patrick Murphy built up the reputation as a moderate who would work both sides of the aisle for his district. But now that he's running for the Democratic Senate nomination and needs the approval of party-first-district-second, Murphy is starting to bolt to the left.
Murphy’s new-found liberalism was on display last week as he tried to make inroads against primary rival Alan Grayson. Teaming up with liberals Joe Crowley and Tammy Duckworth, Murphy helped bring out Patty Murray’s bill to make sure Obamacare covers birth control pills without prescriptions. Closer to home, Murphy endorsed Nan Rich’s effort to get elected to the Broward County Commission.
While she didn’t pick up much traction, Rich claimed much the same ground in last year’s gubernatorial race that Grayson is staking out in the Senate race. Rich was the stalwart liberal against Charlie Crist, a former Republican who tried to position himself as the moderate who could win in November.
Of course, Crist didn’t win, nor have other Democrats who tried to play to the middle in recent years like Alex Sink. That’s something Grayson is pointing out, trying to counter the Democratic establishment’s pleas for liberals to vote with their heads, not with their hearts, especially with Hillary Clinton’s presidential chances on the line and the prospect of flipping a Senate seat to boot.
Not surprisingly, Crist and Sink are already behind Murphy, another reason for him to show off his support for Rich. In a stunning display of contempt, Crist, having been a Democrat for a year and a half after holding three statewide offices as a Republican, refused to debate Rich, the first woman to ever lead her party in the Florida Senate. Rich got run over by Crist in the primary, but plenty of liberals haven’t forgotten how badly the Democratic leadership treated her. By throwing his support behind Rich, Murphy is hoping to at least alleviate some of the left’s problems with him.
Try as he might, though, Murphy will never be able to capture liberals’ hearts the way Grayson does. With his caustic, face-first style, Grayson has become the darling of liberals across the nation. Grayson is unapologetically progressive and willing to take the fight to the GOP, things which can’t be said about Murphy.
Grayson isn’t Nan Rich. Allison Tant and the Democratic bosses could treat Rich badly because her campaign was underfunded and going nowhere. Already commanding more spotlight than Rich ever did, Grayson can rely on a national network of grassroots donors to help him get to the primary.
Murphy knows the attacks are coming. Grayson will remind primary voters that Murphy had been a Republican who backed Mitt Romney in 2008 when he ran a far more conservative campaign then than he did in 2012. Once again the rumors that Murphy was considering joining the GOP during his first term in Congress will resurface. Murphy needs to make nice to liberals and his efforts in Washington and in Florida are showing he’s going all out to do so. Of course, Republicans are taking notes for the general election.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.