The political cavalry arrived Thursday for Patrick Murphy. His name was Barack Obama.
Obama swaggered into Miami Gardens purportedly for Hillary Clinton, the potential sentinel of his White House legacy. He’s in an unusual position for a sitting president: He’s more popular than his selected successor, who’s more than eager for him to act as her most prominent stand-in, especially to African Americans.
But polls show Clinton leading Donald Trump in Florida, which some political prognosticators have placed in the light blue “lean Democratic” column, no longer a toss-up.
So Obama did what he had to do. He ripped Trump for refusing to say during Wednesday night’s debate if he’ll accept the Nov. 8 election results — and for quipping Thursday in Ohio that he’ll accept the results “if I win.”
“That is not a joking matter,” Obama told the capacity crowd of 2,800 at Florida Memorial University’s athletic arena. “I want everybody to pay attention here — that is dangerous. Because when you try to sow seeds of doubt in people’s minds about the legitimacy of our elections, that undermines our democracy. Then, you are doing the work of our adversaries for them.”
The president also passionately defended Clinton, calling her ready and capable to handle the Oval Office.
“Even in the middle of a crisis, she is calm and cool and collected,” Obama said. “And here is the thing about Hillary: No matter how tough the odds, no matter how much people try to knock her down, no matter how mean folks can be, she doesn’t point fingers. She doesn’t complain. She doesn’t whine. She just works harder. And she gets the job done, and she never, ever, ever quits.”
But then, the president focused on the guy who needs his help most: Murphy, the U.S. Senate candidate who national Democrats have all but abandoned. They’ve refused to spend money on expensive Florida TV ads and written Murphy off as a loss against a mighty Republican incumbent, Marco Rubio.
Or not so mighty, in Obama’s eyes.
“I'm even more confused by Republican politicians who still support Donald Trump,” Obama said. “Marco Rubio is one of those people. How does that work? How can you call him a ‘con artist’ and ‘dangerous’ and object to all the controversial things he says and then say, ‘But I'm still gonna vote for him?' C'mon, man!”
Obama's scathing indictment continued.
“You know what that is, though? It is the height of cynicism,” he said. “That's the sign of someone who will say anything, do anything, pretend to be anybody just to get elected. And you know what? If you're willing to be anybody just to be somebody, then you don't have the leadership that Florida needs in the United States Senate.”
Obama spent a surprisingly long chunk of his rousing speech contrasting Murphy — a Jupiter congressman still unknown to many voters in Miami-Dade, the county with the largest number of Democrats in Florida — with Rubio.
A Rubio spokeswoman, Olivia Perez-Cubas, said the president preferred to hit Rubio than praise Murphy.
“Patrick Murphy has accomplished nothing during his four years in Congress —- even the President couldn’t think of anything nice to say about him,” she said.
And while the footage could give Rubio plenty of fodder to use for fundraising, Murphy might also be able to use some Obama lines in his favor.
“Patrick Murphy, when he is your United States senator, he is going to be doing his work. In fact, unlike his opponent, he shows up to work,” Obama said. “Unlike his opponent, he didn’t walk away from Florida’s Hispanic community when the politics got tough: He fought for comprehensive immigration reform and a path of citizenship. Unlike his opponent, Patrick actually believes in science and the effects of climate change.
“Just the other night in the debate, Marco Rubio did not accept that sea level’s rising. If you are watching TV or you are going down some of the blocks right here in Miami, in the middle of a sunny day you see ocean coming up through streets. How can you deny what is right in front of you?”
Obama tore into Rubio far more harshly — and more effectively — than Murphy ever has. And the president appeared to relish doing so, much as he did recently in Ohio, where he lambasted incumbent Republican Sen. Rob Portman. Rubio and Portman are both ahead in their races.
Murphy got to address the rally before Obama arrived. He received applause — but nothing like the roar that met Obama.
“Even Marco Rubio says there's no rigging of the vote,” Obama said, “which I'd like to give credit for — except he's refuting the dangerous, unprecedented claims of a candidate he says he's still going to vote for!”
Rubio, Obama concluded, “just seems to care about hanging on to his job.”
Murphy stood in the back of the university arena, next to former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, watching in awe and smiling.
They were students sitting in on a master class.