Money, Endorsements Pave Patrick Murphy's Path To U.S. Senate

Jul 27, 2016
Originally published on August 3, 2016 9:02 am

Democrat Patrick Murphy must have seemed like the perfect candidate when he announced he was running for U.S. Senate. The 33-year-old Palm Beach Congressman is young, telegenic and politically moderate.  But recently, a spate of controversies, along with GOP incumbent Marco Rubio’s surprise entry into the race, have called Murphy’s front-runner status into question.

So just who is Patrick Murphy?

He grew up in the Florida Keys. His mother became addicted to drugs, so he was raised by his father – first in Weston, in Broward County, then in Miami.

He paints himself as a moderate Democrat, and in fact, he used to be a Republican. He champions issues affecting lower-and middle-income people, but he attended elite prep schools. He favors changes to campaign finance law that would have prevented him from accepting the millions of dollars he's received from his father, who owns one of the largest construction businesses in the state.

Murphy's aides declined to make him available for an interview. During a recent meeting of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg, he gave this reason for running for Senate:

"The House right now is playing small ball," he told the audience. "There's no vision. There's no more foresight. And I've decided to run for the U.S. Senate because I think I can make an even bigger difference on the issues I care about and the issues we all care about."

In the Democratic primary, Murphy is up against Alan Grayson, an outspoken liberal congressman from Orlando. Murphy has an edge in the polls, but both are trailing incumbent Republican Marco Rubio.

Still, Murphy's got what most Democrats consider a dream endorsement from President Obama. Vice President Joe Biden is hitting the campaign trail with the Congressman.

That's no small feat, says George Bennett, a political reporter for the Palm Beach Post. He's covered Murphy since he first ran for Congress in his Treasure Coast district in 2012.

"The president doesn't weigh in on very many Democratic primaries," says Bennett. "So Murphy certainly has a big money and organizational advantage in the primary against Grayson. That certainly counts for a lot versus Grayson's ability to fire up liberal base voters."

But lately, Murphy’s had to defend himself against a series of reports suggesting a pattern of padding his accomplishments, from his number of college degrees to the extent of his work cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill.

He brushed off the reports in an interview in June with the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald.

"This is just more baseless attacks by the Republicans, who are clearly trying to help my primary opponent, Alan Grayson. They want him to be the nominee. They're not trying to hide that. They're saying that straight up. So they're digging right now, trying to find something that doesn't exist," Murphy told reporters.

Murphy wants to keep the focus on his campaign themes, including his fight against unlimited political contributions.

"The money is disgusting in politics," he told Suncoast Tiger Bay Club members in March. "A big part of why I'm in this is to change the rules. I'm in on every single piece of legislation to overturn Citizens United."

But that would outlaw the contributions he has received from his father. The Miami Herald has reported that Tom Murphy Jr., who owns Coastal Construction in Miami, poured a half-million dollars into a super PAC supporting his son's bid.

Bennett said Murphy may want to change the laws, "but as long as they exist the way they do, he's taking advantage of them."

Murphy serves on the House Financial Services Committee. PolitiFact Florida, the fact-checking service run by the Tampa Bay Times, has reported Murphy has taken more money from Wall Street than any other member of Congress other than the speaker and the majority leader.

And the money keeps rolling in, on both sides of the aisle. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has begun airing ads, painting him as “Privileged Patrick” or “Phony Patrick.” The Democratic Senate Majority Political Action Committee is planning a $1 million ad campaign to support him.

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