Elections

Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy diverge on policy and personality

Democratic U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy, left, and Alan Grayson. Murphy and Grayson are facing off in the Aug. 30, 2016, Democratic primary for a chance to unseat incumbent GOP Sen. Marco Rubio.
Democratic U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy, left, and Alan Grayson. Murphy and Grayson are facing off in the Aug. 30, 2016, Democratic primary for a chance to unseat incumbent GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. Miami Herald file photo

Democratic U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson are more likely to vote the same way than they are to oppose each other.

But it’s the differences — occasionally in policy, but drastically in personality — that are key as both men seek for voters to promote them to the U.S. Senate.

After more than a year of campaigning, the pair face off this month in a Democratic primary, challenged by three newcomers to Florida politics who have never held elected office. Absentee voting for the Aug. 30 election is under way, and early voting begins Monday in several major counties, including Miami-Dade.

Also competing in the Democratic primary are three candidates who’ve never held elected office: Pam Keith, Reginald Luster and ‘Rocky’ Roque De La Fuente.

Murphy and Grayson would bring their own Democratic flavor to the Senate — Murphy, more moderate; Grayson, more liberal — and they each have passionate supporters eager to see their guy challenge the Republican favorite, incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio, in November.

Grayson, a three-term congressman from Orlando, brings national name recognition as a progressive firebrand, known for colorful and sometimes outlandish soundbites. He’s been a staunch liberal compared to the more-moderate Murphy.

Meanwhile, Murphy, a two-term congressman from Jupiter, is toeing a line this year between maintaining his moderate reputation and seeking to re-brand himself as more of a loyal progressive. Murphy was a registered Republican until he switched to the Democratic Party two months before he first ran for Congress five years ago and has since been elected twice as a Democrat.

Running in a moderate Treasure Coast district, Murphy proudly emphasized how he often “bucked party leadership” when he sought re-election in 2014. But to appeal to Democrats across Florida this year, Murphy has downplayed how “independent” he has been.

MORE: Patrick Murphy aims his youthful political exuberance at U.S. Senate seat

On the campaign trail, both Murphy and Grayson emphasize popular progressive issues: campaign finance reform, raising the minimum wage, cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients and women’s and LGBT rights.

Murphy’s stump speech is broad and often vague. He touts the need to rebuild the middle class, reduce income inequality and invest in education and infrastructure. He also talks about environmental protection, such as funding Everglades restoration and fixing the algae crisis in his district.

Grayson campaigns with laser-focus mostly on senior issues, promoting legislation he introduced to “give seniors a raise” and to improve their vision, dental and hearing coverage under Medicare.

When acknowledging each other, Murphy is more likely to go after Grayson’s vulnerabilities than he is his voting record — while Grayson joyfully highlights Murphy’s willingness to vote with Republicans at times.

Murphy says often that voters have a “clear choice” between him and Grayson because of their personalities.

This is somebody who’s pretended to be a progressive, who’s pretended to be anti-Wall Street.

Patrick Murphy on Alan Grayson

While speaking against the negativity of politics, Murphy makes a point to bring up Grayson’s flaws, including how Grayson is the subject of an ongoing ethics investigation over once-offshore hedge funds he managed while in Congress.

“This is somebody who’s pretended to be a progressive, who’s pretended to be anti-Wall Street, who’s pretended to be against hedge funds and the like,” Murphy recently told the Miami Herald editorial board.

Late last month, Grayson’s campaign was rattled by another controversy, which Murphy has since used as a reason to not debate his opponent. Allegations of domestic abuse by Grayson’s ex-wife, Lolita, surfaced — costing Grayson a couple of key endorsements. Grayson rejects his ex-wife’s accusations; he contends she was the one who abused him and their five children.

Murphy isn’t without his own baggage.

He has embellished his academic and professional credentials, and he drew fire last week for what opponents portray as hiding from voters. Aside from backing out of the debate with Grayson, Murphy has avoided town halls or candidate forums with his opponents during the campaign and, until recently, had relatively few public appearances this summer.

While the personal attacks irritate and anger Grayson, they don’t deter him, and he doesn’t shy away from lobbing them back — bluntly.

He’s called the 33-year-old Murphy an “empty suit” and a “youthful idiot.”

“My opponent is trying to make this into a I’m-a-nice-guy-who-you-want-to-have-a-beer-with race — but that’s like saying what we’re doing here is electing the captain of the football team or the homecoming queen,” Grayson, 58, told the Herald editorial board. “We’re electing somebody here that actually makes the laws we all live by and has to be a leader.”

MORE: Exuding self-confidence, Alan Grayson sets sights on U.S. Senate

Grayson blasts Murphy as a “fake” progressive for his moderate record. Last week, Grayson’s campaign called Murphy “Obama’s Judas” and highlighted 65 times since 2013 when Grayson says Murphy sided with Republicans on bills that the president had threatened to veto. Grayson said he cast only six such votes.

Examples include Murphy supporting both the Keystone XL pipeline (along with 27 other Democrats) and the creation of the House Select Committee on Benghazi (along with six other Democrats), which investigated then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of the 2012 attack in Libya.

There have been some key instances when Grayson, too, broke party ranks.

My opponent is trying to make this into a I’m-a-nice-guy-who-you-want-to-have-a-beer-with race — but that’s like saying what we’re doing here is electing the captain of the football team or the homecoming queen.

Alan Grayson on Patrick Murphy

For instance, last fall, Grayson was the only Democrat to join some House Republicans in opposing the re-authorization of the Export-Import Bank. The bill passed with bipartisan support.

Grayson said he’s had a couple of “fundamental differences” with fellow Democrats and the Obama administration: He opposed military action in Syria three years ago and was against the president’s previous plan to “cut Social Security benefits” by changing the consumer price index.

One current issue where Grayson and Murphy agree: opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership, a 12-country trade deal that has been agreed to but not ratified.

Murphy’s position puts him in line with Clinton but at odds with Obama, who has appeared in ads for Murphy’s campaign. Murphy said he wants to improve the deal, specifically, for the citrus industry in his district. But there’s no wiggle-room to change it.

“The way they present it is very frustrating,” Murphy said. “Looking at the deal itself, of course, I have very real concerns.”

Grayson called the TPP “a terrible, terrible deal.”

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

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