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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Murphy refuses to debate Grayson



Citing abuse allegations that surfaced last week against his main opponent, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy now refuses to participate in a debate against rival Alan Grayson ahead of the Aug. 30 primary election.

Murphy had previously vowed there would be debates with his fellow Democratic congressman, but on Wednesday, Murphy reneged on a scheduled debate next week against Grayson, canceling that event with an Orlando TV station.

Murphy also rejected his primary opponents' pleas for more debates ahead of the election, when voters will pick the Republican and Democratic candidates who will appear on the November ballot. Florida's U.S. Senate race has drawn national attention and millions of dollars in political spending because it could decide which party controls the chamber next year.

Murphy, a congressman from Jupiter, said allegations that Grayson abused his ex-wife have "disqualified" Grayson from public service, and Murphy doesn't want to debate Grayson because of it.

"I cannot in good conscience give him a platform to promote himself and his campaign. As a result, I will not participate in any forums or debates with Alan Grayson," Murphy said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

But Grayson's campaign said "the whole story isn't being told" about the congressman's family situation, and the campaign accused Murphy of capitalizing on the controversy simply to advance his own political ambitions.

"What Patrick Murphy has done is use some very serious allegations to exploit this very personal family struggle, and for his own political gain," Grayson campaign manager Michael Ceraso said in a statement. "And while Patrick has actually been caught lying about himself and what he's done, Alan has discussed these and any other allegations openly with the press. For the rest of the campaign, he will continue to do that. The same cannot be said for Patrick Murphy."

Ceraso was referencing various media reports that found Murphy has, at times, inflated his professional and academic credentials. 

Murphy's statement came as Grayson and Pam Keith, a third Democratic contender in the race, held a press conference in West Palm Beach to call on Murphy to agree to more debates.

Keith has been outspokenly critical for the past week because she was left out of the planned WFTV Channel 9 debate in Orlando. She didn't poll high enough to meet the station's threshold to participate.

Keith, in a statement later Wednesday, blasted Murphy for backing out of the debate.

"Patrick Murphy's refusal to participate in any debates in this primary is the work of a pampered, privileged, entitled brat who has never had to work for anything in his life," she said. 

Keith and Grayson said they were still willing to debate each other, and Keith said Murphy could still debate her, but the impetus is now on Murphy.

"He's a faker and a con artist, and he's anxious to use any excuse to avoid having to answer for his own voting record," Grayson said at the press conference. 

Earlier Wednesday, Grayson met with reporters in Palm Beach County for nearly an hour, taking questions in South Florida for the first time since the abuse allegations were made public.

Grayson has vehemently denied the claims from his ex-wife, Lolita, that he abused her during their 25-year marriage, which ended in an annulment in 2015. The split was messy and divisive, and in both court documents and in his comments Wednesday, Grayson also accused Lolita of abuse against both him and their five children.

Grayson's controversy gives Murphy a convenient reason to back out of debating. WithMurphy being the continuous frontrunner and the favored candidate by the Democratic establishment, a televised debate could potentially hurt his chances.

Grayson and Murphy had pledged they would debate ahead of the Aug. 30 election, but efforts to coordinate even one were a struggle.

Several TV and radio stations said Murphy's campaign, in particular, had been difficult to work with in trying to arrange debates. Keith and Grayson had agreed to debate on an Orlando public radio station, but that debate was canceled after Murphy declined to participate.

The WFTV debate had been the only event Grayson's and Murphy's camps were able to agree on. It was set to be taped next week and air in prime-time Aug. 12.

WFTV said in a statement that the station is "extremely disappointed with Congressman Murphy's decision to back out of his commitment."

"Ultimately, the voters of Florida are the big losers here as they will be deprived the chance to hear Mr. Murphy and Mr. Grayson share their vision of Florida's future," the station said.

Murphy said his decision came after talking with survivors of domestic abuse, and he accused Grayson of "refusing to address these issues."

"Over the last week, I have heard from many people, including survivors of domestic abuse, that Alan Grayson'scontinued presence in this race is an insult to the countless Floridians whose lives have been affected by this kind of violence," Murphy said in his statement.

In an apparently coordinated media blitz, the release of Murphy's statement was followed by several statements from elected officials and groups who support Murphy and are advocates of abuse victims. One was from Lauren Book, aMurphy supporter and state senator-elect from Broward County, who praised Murphy's decision and called on Grayson to end his candidacy. "Domestic abuse and public bullying has no place in politics," she said.

No debates have been scheduled between the Republican candidates, incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio and Manatee County home-builder Carlos Beruff. Beruff has accused Rubio of dodging debates.


[Last modified: Wednesday, August 3, 2016 9:14pm]


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