Clinton endorses Murphy after not mentioning him on campaign trail

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stops in to speak to workers at a campaign office for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., left, in Davie on Aug. 9.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stops in to speak to workers at a campaign office for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., left, in Davie on Aug. 9. AP

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton officially endorsed Florida U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy on Thursday afternoon — two hours after the Herald/Times published a story noting that she hadn’t mentioned him or his high-profile contest against Republican incumbent Marco Rubio when campaigning recently in the state.

In a statement, Clinton said she was “proud” to back Murphy because the two-term Jupiter congressman “is a problem-solver who will work hard for the people of Florida.”

“From strengthening our middle class to fighting for common-sense solutions to reduce gun violence to protecting women’s health care, I know that I can count on Patrick to be a strong partner in the U.S. Senate,” Clinton said. “Florida families deserve a leader who will put their interests first — and I know that Patrick Murphy will be a voice for families across the state.”

Murphy returned the praise, saying in a statement: “Secretary Clinton is one of the most qualified candidates we have ever had run for president and I’m so proud to have her endorsement.”

Rubio’s campaign, meanwhile, pounced on the endorsement as an opportunity to slam Murphy.

“The only reason Clinton did not endorse Murphy sooner is because he is such an obviously flawed candidate and ineffective congressman that he has to lie about his resume,” Rubio spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas said in a statement. “Not only does Murphy fully support Clinton’s liberal agenda, but he thinks she is honest and trustworthy.”

During the past 18 months, Murphy had racked up support from most every Democratic party leader with Clinton being one obvious exception.

Clinton has been in Florida frequently in the past few months but conspicuously hasn’t mentioned the Jupiter congressman’s name during her recent public rallies, let alone referenced Florida’s high-stakes Senate race.

The absence of any prior mention of Murphy by Clinton stood out, because Florida’s U.S. Senate race continues to be — and has long been considered — one of the most pivotal and highly competitive contests Democrats need to win in order to have a chance at taking back the U.S. Senate. If they win both the presidency and the Senate, Democrats can set the agenda in Washington.

Clinton didn’t mention either Murphy or the Senate race on Tuesday in Tampa when she made her first visit back to Florida since last week’s statewide primary — which secured Murphy’s status as the Democrats’ general election pick against incumbent Republican Marco Rubio.

Nor did Clinton name Murphy a month ago when she visited St. Petersburg — giving shout-outs to local elected officials and Democratic candidates including “your former governor and the next congressman” Charlie Crist, who’s on the November ballot in Florida’s 13th congressional district.

Clinton’s running mate, Virginia U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, also didn’t acknowledge Murphy or the Senate contest when he spoke at Florida A&M University a couple weeks ago about voter registration and the importance of this year’s general election. (Kaine individually was among a group of sitting U.S. senators who backed Murphy last fall, though.)

A couple of Democratic consultants previously told the Herald/Times they didn’t find Clinton’s omission unusual. Murphy’s campaign earlier Thursday also said it wasn’t a big deal that Clinton hadn’t endorsed or mentioned Murphy, and that they remained “hopeful” of a joint appearance.

The national spotlight has been on Florida’s race for months but is shining even brighter now that Murphy and Rubio are going head-to-head in the general.

The race is so significant President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have been very involved in promoting Murphy’s campaign.

They endorsed Murphy back in early March, when he was the leading candidate in a contested Democratic primary race against Alan Grayson. Biden has been to Florida three times since then to campaign with Murphy, and Obama not only supported Murphy at a Miami fundraiser in June but he also did radio and TV ads for him this summer.

While Clinton hasn’t mentioned Murphy at her campaign events, the two-term congressman has openly and loyally supported her campaign for president (although he took heat in the primary for being among a small group of Democrats who supported creating the House Benghazi committee that investigated her).

Clinton’s campaign earlier this week did not return an email seeking comment from the Herald/Times inquiring whether Clinton had plans to formally endorse Murphy.

Asked last month about whether Clinton would endorse him, Murphy told Fusion host and Univision anchor Jorge Ramos that he’s “hopeful that will happen.”

“We’ve had good conversations so far, and I think it’s just a matter of time before that happens,” Murphy said.

Official endorsements from Clinton are apparently rare. She backed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former Democratic National Committee chairwoman, in her contested primary last month in South Florida, and she endorsed Tammy Duckworth a year ago in Illinois’ similarly competitive U.S. Senate race for 2016. Other examples are hard to find.

And while it doesn’t appear that Clinton herself has stumped with U.S. Senate candidates in competitive states yet, some of her surrogates are doing double-duty by headlining events supporting both Clinton and Democratic candidates in toss-up races.

For instance, Minnesota U.S. Sen. Al Franken campaigned for Clinton and Nevada U.S. Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto in Reno last month, and Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is scheduled to campaign for Clinton and Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty in Philadelphia on Friday.

Murphy spokesman Joshua Karp said earlier Thursday that there were no specific plans for joint events yet with Murphy and Clinton.

“They just haven’t crossed paths, but we’re hopeful,” he said, noting that Murphy did attend a Clinton event a year ago at Broward College and has been a “longtime supporter” of her candidacy.

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