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  1. Florida Politics

Murphy looking less like a winner in race for Senate

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy was the favorite of Democrats.
U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy was the favorite of Democrats.
Published Jun. 26, 2016

For at least a year the conventional wisdom has echoed from Democrats and Republicans alike in Washington, Tallahassee and across Florida: U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy is the future of the Democratic Party, a powerhouse statewide candidate and most likely Florida's next U.S. senator.

Today, two months before the preferred candidate of Barack Obama and Joe Biden faces Alan Grayson in a primary and four and a half before the general election, we're struggling to think of when Florida last saw a candidate who proved as overrated and overhyped as Murphy.

The Times/Herald and others in recent weeks have shown a pattern with the 33-year-old congressman from Palm Beach County: He appears to be a serial exaggerator of his accomplishments, from inflating the scope of his work on gulf cleanup after the BP oil spill, to falsely claiming to have earned dual college degrees, to overstating his work as a CPA. Last week, a Miami TV station aired a two-part investigative series that portrayed Murphy as an unaccomplished, chronic embellisher.

"Murphy's rise is extraordinary because of how little he seems to have accomplished to get here," concluded CBS4 News. "… Murphy has in some cases exaggerated his experience and in other instances made claims that were misleading or outright false. For instance, he has never worked a day in his life as a Certified Public Accountant. And he was never a small business owner."

Murphy's campaign has attacked the report as unfair and inaccurate. He was a CPA, even if he was never licensed by Florida or worked as long as he seemed to imply. And he did have a small business, even if his wealthy father bought it for him and it didn't do much cleanup work.

But what's already certain is that the Democratic Party establishment prematurely planned a coronation for a candidate about to be mauled and carved up by Republicans. "Patrick Murphy — a career built on lies," is how the National Republican Senatorial Committee has started describing him.

Murphy is a telegenic, moderate and largely noncontroversial congressman. Mainly, though, what sets him apart is money. Murphy's father is in the construction business and has been willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to help get his son elected, so the party establishment saw little reason to dig below the surface of Patrick Murphy's image.

Political analysts have consistently deemed Florida's U.S. Senate race one of a handful of toss-up contests across the country. After Marco Rubio announced his re-election campaign last week, that rating will likely shift to GOP-leaning.

Given the way Murphy has withered under scrutiny in recent weeks, we're wondering if most of the drama will be in the primary and not the general. Rubio may face more difficulty winning the nomination against businessman Carlos Beruff than beating either Grayson, notoriously obnoxious and mired in pending ethics probes; or Murphy, who increasingly looks like an emperor with no clothes.

Two surprises

It's wise to take any "internal campaign polling memo" with more than a few grains of salt, but at least two things jump out of a newly released memo from the David Jolly campaign based on June 1-2 polling that shows Jolly ahead 50 percent to 38 percent in south Pinellas' Congressional District 13:

1. That Jolly would have a double-digit lead over Democrat Charlie Crist in a safe Democratic district is hard to believe.

Yes, Republican Jack Latvala says other internal polls showed Jolly leading Crist, but 12 points? Seems highly suspect. For what it's worth, the Crist campaign paid for a Public Policy Polling robopoll June 6-7, that showed Crist leading Jolly 46 percent to 43 percent, which in itself is bad news for Crist given the numbers in that district.

2. That Donald Trump is trailing Hillary Clinton in that district by just one point, 44 percent to 43 percent — a district that Obama won by nearly 11 percentage points.

This is actually not so hard to buy, given the polling that Latvala has commissioned and Democratic polls of legislative races in south Pinellas that we've seen. The bellwether county of Pinellas is one of the main areas in Florida where the Clinton campaign knows it has work to do.

Help for Democrats

A new, well-funded voter mobilization group is gearing up to help elect Democrats up and down the ballot. For Florida's Future, a joint super PAC and 501(c)4 organization, aims to highlight and hold accountable candidates for their words and records on specific issues including climate change, student debt and retirement security.

The group is affiliated with the national For Our Future PAC led by billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer's NextGen Climate and the AFL-CIO; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the American Federation of Teachers; and the National Education Association. It aims to raise and spend $50 million in the top battlegrounds of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Wisconsin.

"This election season has proven that nothing can be taken for granted, so our work is focused on empowering and expanding the efforts of existing organizations and coalitions to ensure that the Trump/Rubio ticket and their friends are held accountable for what they have said and done," said Ashley Walker, a top Democratic consultant in Florida, leading the Sunshine State effort. "By calling out where Trump, Rubio and their allies stand on the issues, we can build an organization that will not just be united in November, but will continue working in 2017 and beyond."