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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Joe Biden charms while campaigning for Patrick Murphy in Orlando

ORLANDO -- Vice President Joe Biden charmed a crowded restaurant in downtown Orlando this morning, lending his political stardom once again to the U.S. Senate campaign of Democrat Patrick Murphy.

As Biden entered to small cheers from an expectant audience, the ever-charismatic politician joked to the 75 people gathered at Chef Eddie's restaurant: "Look, I hope you're all eating because what I don't want to have happen is the waitresses (get) angry because they're not getting tips because I'm here!"

Much as he did at a Miami restaurant while campaigning for Murphy two months ago, Biden worked the room with magnetic energy. He shook hands, offered hugs, snapped selfies and greeted every stranger as if they were old friends.

Murphy, a two-term Democratic congressman from Jupiter, seemed to struggle for the spotlight. He often lingered in Biden's metaphorical shadow -- even helping to take a photo of Biden and some of his admirers at one point. But Murphy was also able to introduce himself and chat with some of the guests, at least a few of whom seemed to be friends or acquaintances of Murphy's.

Dolled up in suits and dresses, most of the crowd seemed to be invited guests -- not average diners who'd happened to stop by the restaurant for some of its casual soul-food. All but a handful waited with reporters for over an hour before Murphy and Biden arrived.

Eddie Ayala, a self-described Democrat from Winter Park, said he and others tagged along with a friend, who reluctantly acknowledged she was invited to the unannounced campaign stop featuring the vice president.

Of Murphy, Ayala said: "I think he has a great chance to be the next senator from Florida."

The restaurant, just down the street from the Amway Center in downtown Orlando, is about three miles west of the congressional district that Murphy's Democratic rival in the U.S. Senate race represents.

Fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson lives in Orlando and represents part of the city.

Grayson hasn't taken kindly to the Democratic establishment -- including Biden, President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- endorsing Murphy so fervently ahead of the Aug. 30 primary.

When asked for comment about Biden's latest campaign stop with Murphy, Grayson said in a campaign statement: "Running Republicans as Democrats in Florida just doesn’t work. We know that already. Vice President Biden needs to explain how Patrick’s advocating ‘across the board cuts’ to Social Security and Medicare, backing Keystone XL, fracking and tearing down Wall Street reforms will energize anyone but Trump voters this fall."

Biden spoke with the reporters for about five minutes while making his way through the restaurant. He remarked on his decision not to run for president, what he thinks of Republican front-runner Donald Trump and -- pertinent to the day -- why he was supporting Murphy over Grayson.

"Alan's a fine guy," Biden said, as his aides tried to usher reporters along. "But look, I don't often endorse. My whole career I think I've only endorsed in a primary three candidates."

"But it wasn't about Alan, it was about the caliber of this guy," Biden said, gesturing to Murphy who stood over his shoulder. "This is the real deal. ... We need people in the Senate who can bring people together."

Murphy mentioned his efforts in 2013 as a newly elected congressman to create a freshman bipartisan group "to get people talking."

"You've got to get to know each other, as the vice president said, and build some common ground and break down those walls that shouldn't exist in the first place," Murphy said.

Earlier this morning, Murphy and Biden attended a fundraiser held at the Orlando home of Richard Swann, who is father-in-law to Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Swann has given at least $200,000 to national Democratic causes since 2000 -- including $3,500 to Murphy last year and the maximum $5,400 to Murphy's House re-election bid in 2014. That year, Swann also gave $1,000 to Grayson's House re-election bid, records show.

Biden spent about 40 minutes at Chef Eddie's, while Murphy quietly exited after about 25 minutes to catch a plane back to Washington, D.C., for a floor session in the U.S. House this afternoon.

However, Murphy still missed out on some his duties in Congress Thursday to campaign with Biden.

One of the committees Murphy sits on –- Intelligence –- had a meeting scheduled for Thursday morning,* at the same time as Murphy and Biden were attending their political events together in Orlando. Four votes were cast -- which Murphy missed -- on whether to allow some members of Congress access to confidential documents.

Murphy's absence from Capitol Hill while Congress is in session could add fuel to attacks that Murphy and Grayson have lobbed at each other the past few months. Both candidates have called the other out for missing votes.

It's the second time Murphy has missed work on Capitol Hill in recent months to appear with the Democratic Party's top figureheads. In late February, Murphy missed 10 votes when he accompanied President Barack Obama on his trip to Jacksonville for a speech on the economy.

*This post has been amended to correct an error. The second committee that Murphy is on, Financial Services, had a hearing of its subcommittee this morning, which Murphy is not a part of.

[Last modified: Thursday, May 12, 2016 4:48pm]

    

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