Florida Politics

U.S. Senate candidate says it’s ‘racism, sexism’ to exclude her from debate

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Pam Keith, of Miami, is accusing WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando of “blatant racism and sexism” for its decision to hold only a “one-on-one” debate between the two leading primary candidates, Democratic U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson. The station said only Murphy and Grayson met its threshold to participate by polling at 15 percent or higher.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Pam Keith, of Miami, is accusing WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando of “blatant racism and sexism” for its decision to hold only a “one-on-one” debate between the two leading primary candidates, Democratic U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson. The station said only Murphy and Grayson met its threshold to participate by polling at 15 percent or higher. Pam Keith’s U.S. Senate campaign

After weeks of trying to get the two leading Democratic U.S. Senate candidates to agree, there will be at least one debate between U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson before the Aug. 30 primary.

But another Democrat competing for the seat said her exclusion from the upcoming televised debate is “blatant racism and sexism.”

Miami labor attorney and former U.S. Navy officer Pam Keith is the lone African-American woman in the Senate contest. She accuses WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando of “colluding” with Murphy and Grayson to arrange what the station said will be a “one-on-one” debate between the two sitting U.S. congressmen.

“Essentially, WFTV wants to ensure that all voters, but especially women, African American and Hispanic voters, remain ignorant of any candidates other than the two wealthy white men they seek to promote,” Keith said in a statement to the Herald/Times late Tuesday.

The televised debate is scheduled to air 7 p.m. Aug. 12 on WFTV in Orlando. Floridians elsewhere can watch it online at wftv.com.

It will likely be the only Democratic U.S. Senate debate ahead of the primary. Various media outlets have had difficulty getting Murphy and Grayson to agree to terms for more debates.

WFTV has not responded to a request for comment about Keith’s statement. The station told the Herald/Times earlier Tuesday that it invited just Grayson and Murphy to participate because they were the only two candidates that met the station’s criteria: a showing of at least 15 percent in statewide polls. Such a threshold is common for organized political debates.

Keith has been campaigning for about 20 months — longer than any other candidate from either major party — but she’s still an underdog, as Murphy and Grayson have attracted the most attention in the Democratic field.

Most polls haven’t included Keith at all. In the two that have — News 13 / Bay News 9 polls in March and in June — Keith got 11 percent and 10 percent support, respectively.

Keith called it “an offense and a disgrace” for WFTV and for her political opponents to intentionally leave her out, and she said the result is “an utter debasement of voters of color.”

“To treat those voters, who may have a particular interest in a woman candidate or candidates of color, as inconsequential is beyond belief,” she said.

Neither Grayson’s nor Murphy’s campaigns responded to requests for comment about Keith’s remarks and whether they think she should be included in their debate. Both have largely ignored Keith’s campaign.

Keith has quietly presented herself as the alternative for Democrats who might not like Murphy or Grayson. Both men have high-profile flaws: Murphy has been criticized for inflating his experience and credentials, and Grayson has battled, first, an ongoing congressional ethics investigation and, now this week, allegations by his ex-wife of prior domestic abuse.

WFTV officially announced the Grayson-Murphy debate late Monday, after news of it leaked last week.

“The race for the U.S. Senate seat in Florida will be one of the most watched in the country. This is an important opportunity for our viewers to hear directly from the leading Democratic candidates on where they stand on the key issues facing our region, our country and the world,” said Paul Curran, vice president and general manager of WFTV Channel 9 and WRDQ TV-27.

“Our expectation is that both candidates will use this forum to better educate the voting public on their vision for the future,” Curran added in his statement.

News anchor Greg Warmoth will moderate the debate, which the station said will include questions on national security, national and state economic issues, Florida's environment and gridlock in Washington, D.C.

The station said Tuesday that other Senate candidates, Democrats and Republicans, would be invited to do three-minute segments “to communicate their stance on the issues to the people of Central Florida.”

Keith isn’t the only Democrat to be excluded from WFTV’s debate. Reginald Luster of Jacksonville, who is also black, and “Rocky”" Roque De La Fuente of Orlando also weren’t invited. They each launched their campaigns last month — just in time to qualify for the primary ballot — and neither has been included in any polls.

No debates have been announced between the Republican candidates, incumbent Marco Rubio and challenger Carlos Beruff.

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

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