Politics

With mostly quiet summer, is Patrick Murphy avoiding voters?

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy held a press conference in Ybor City on Thursday to announce the endorsement of fellow U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor. Murphy had a minimal presence on the campaign trail this summer until a couple weeks ago.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy held a press conference in Ybor City on Thursday to announce the endorsement of fellow U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor. Murphy had a minimal presence on the campaign trail this summer until a couple weeks ago. Tampa Bay Times

Democrat Patrick Murphy talks often about needing to introduce himself to Florida voters. To illustrate his efforts, the U.S. Senate candidate has, for months, claimed an aggressive campaign schedule — “dozens and dozens” of events from Key West to Pensacola in the past year.

But this summer, the Jupiter congressman has actually had relatively few public campaign stops — prompting opponents to accuse him of hiding from voters with less than three weeks to go before the Aug. 30 primary and as mail-in ballots are already being cast.

Based on media reports, campaign announcements and social media posts by Murphy, the Herald/Times identified just 14 campaign events Murphy has made publicly known between June 1 and Aug. 9. More than half of those were since July 25, the week of the Democratic National Convention when Murphy ramped up his campaign.

I’ve been doing dozens and dozens of events around the state, all sorts of sizes, meeting as many people as humanly possible.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy, last week

It’s fair to assume Murphy has held or attended more events than that in the past couple months — in private, unannounced or unadvertised — but his campaign won’t provide the congressman’s schedule to back up Murphy’s claim. The campaign also rejected three requests by the Herald/Times to interview Murphy since late July.

“Patrick continues to campaign across the state, meeting with voters, listening to their concerns, and sharing his vision for Florida families,” Murphy spokesman Joshua Karp said in a statement that echoed Murphy’s own talking points.

Murphy — the frontrunner in the Democratic primary for Marco Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat — has kept a low profile in the past couple of months, ever since media reports revealed he had embellished his academic and professional credentials by either incorrectly stating them or by omitting a full explanation.

But during the past two weeks, Murphy has held more events — including a couple of press conferences, endorsement announcements, visits to two Democratic clubs in northern Florida and a private fundraiser and unannounced campaign stop with Vice President Joe Biden. Murphy was scheduled to briefly address the Plantation Democratic Club in Broward County Tuesday night.

As the Democratic establishment’s chosen one, Murphy is under pressure to step up his game if he is to take on Rubio, the Republican favorite, in November and help Democrats win back the Senate. Rubio led Murphy by double-digits in the most recent statewide poll.

Karp said Rubio is the one “dodging” voters. But by comparison, Rubio — who launched his re-election campaign in late June — has had at least 23 events across Florida since July 18 alone, after Congress broke for its summer recess. (Questions have been raised as to whether Rubio mixed official and campaign resources to organize those stops.) Rubio faces a primary challenge from Manatee County home-builder Carlos Beruff.

Meanwhile, the campaign for Alan Grayson, Murphy’s main primary opponent, provided the Herald/Times with Grayson’s schedule dating back to July 3. It included at least 27 campaign stops, not counting one-on-one media interviews.

“Patrick Murphy’s campaign isn’t about talking to voters or debating ideas,” said Ian Prior, spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC that supports Rubio. “It’s about raising money, saying as little as possible, and airing generic television ads that cover up the fact that he’s nothing more than a fraud who’s trying to buy his way up the political ladder.”

Murphy’s campaign strategy has relied heavily on promoting the endorsements of high-profile Democrats rather than public engagement. Murphy hasn’t attended candidate forums alongside his primary opponents — Grayson and Miami labor attorney and former naval officer Pam Keith — and last week, Murphy backed out of the only pre-primary debate that was scheduled with Grayson.

Murphy also won’t commit to hosting any town-hall meetings, where voters could hear him answer questions in front of a public audience. Rubio, Grayson, Keith and Beruff have each held town-halls.

“Call them whatever you want,” Murphy said last week, after he and Biden made an unannounced visit to a Tallahassee restaurant largely full of invited Democratic supporters. “We meet people all the time, doing events, going to restaurants like this. I’m running a grassroots campaign, going left to right, up and down from Key West to Pensacola, meeting people.”

But Murphy’s critics say he’s hiding. Keith called Murphy a “pampered, privileged, entitled brat” when he pulled out of the debate, and Grayson’s campaign this week called Murphy “gutless” and a coward.

The only way Patrick Murphy gets on a debate stage is if his dad buys him a spine.

Michael Ceraso, spokesman for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alan Grayson

“Patrick knows he can’t risk defending himself,” Grayson campaign manager Michael Ceraso said in a statement. “Only a Wall Street creation could have this much contempt for the democratic process by refusing to stand before Florida voters and defend his record.”

Grayson’s events have most often happened quietly, with little fanfare. They included Black Lives Matter and environmental rallies and Sunday morning visits at predominantly black churches. Last week, the Orlando congressman launched a bus tour in South Florida that’s expected to make trips to other parts of the state before the primary.

Meanwhile, Keith travels the state daily and live-streams almost all her appearances on Facebook. Recently, she courted voters at Aventura Mall in Miami-Dade, attended community events in Tallahassee and spoke at a town hall in Pensacola.

Herald/Times reporter Michael Auslen contributed to this report.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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