Miami Herald recommends Marco Rubio and a long-shot newcomer for Senate, Pam Keith

Miami Herald Editorial Board


Democratic and Republican leaders have displayed a damn-the-voters attitude in this year’s Florida Senate primary races that discredits both parties. They’re doing their best to rig the outcome before a single vote is cast.

In the Democratic race, the leadership has placed its bet on U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who narrowly beat firebrand GOP incumbent Allen West in 2012 in a district that leans slightly Republican. Both President Obama and Vice President Biden have campaigned with Mr. Murphy, with the president featured in a frequent Murphy TV commercial.

The party leadership sees Rep. Murphy as more palatable to voters than primary challenger Alan Grayson, a feisty, mince-no-words congressman from Orlando. But that should be up to the voters to decide. That’s why we have primaries instead of appointed nominees. Stacking the deck against Rep. Grayson corrupts the process.

On the Republican side, party leaders are scared to death of losing the seat held by Sen. Marco Rubio. They persuaded him to go back on this word after he’d said No to this race countless times. Three candidates dropped out of what had been a five-person race, including Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a proven vote-getter in Miami-Dade County, and newcomer Todd Wilcox, a conservative military veteran who made a good impression before exiting.

When a party leaves its own members with fewer choices, or abandons neutrality to favor one candidate over another, voters lose. It’s an insult to anyone who wants fairness in the electoral system. And it’s one more reason so many voters despise partisan politics.

Republican primary

Sen. Marco Rubio remains a popular figure in Florida — even though he lost all but his home county, Miami-Dade, in the presidential primary to Donald Trump. He explains that loss by saying Mr. Trump’s momentum coming into the race from wins elsewhere in the country propelled him to victory.

As for his own poor attendance record, the worst in the Senate, Mr. Rubio says it’s the inevitable result of running an all-out race for the White House. He says he never missed a vote where his presence might have made a difference. It’s a plausible argument, still his record of absences is not one to be proud of.

Nor should anyone overlook his refusal to rule out another run for president in 2020, although he says he has no plans to run. Then again, he also had said that he had no plans to run again for this seat, either.

His pretext for changing his mind was the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub, saying it made him rethink “everything that’s going on — not only in Orlando, but in our country.” That seems a bit too convenient, too self-serving. The lure of belonging to the U.S. Senate, “the world’s most exclusive club,” is a powerful incentive.

But we’ll give Mr. Rubio this: After he was elected in 2010 he very quickly gained national prominence and became a figure to watch in the Senate. His poor primary showing has done little to diminish his political appeal. The senator’s leadership potential remains strong, if unfulfilled.

He can be a unifier when he reaches across the aisle, as he did with his original immigration effort. And on Aug. 12 the better Marco was on display when he appealed to evangelical leaders in Orlando to be more tolerant of the gay community. “You have to understand their perspective, their hope and their dreams,” he declared.

Mr. Rubio’s only active opponent in the primary is Carlos Beruff, 58, a millionaire homebuilder from Bradenton making his first foray into electoral politics. He has said he would be a loyal lieutenant for Donald Trump if both are elected. Mr. Beruff’s campaign, however, has failed to catch fire.

Voters whose overriding priority is to ensure that it remains in Republican hands and maintains the GOP’s precarious majority in the Senate will go with Sen. Rubio in the primary. He’s by far their best bet.

For U.S. Senate in the Republican primary, the Miami Herald recommends MARCO RUBIO.

Democratic primary

Pam Keith’s chances of winning this primary are slim to none. And that’s a shame. This long-shot candidate brings one of the freshest perspectives to Florida politics heard in a long time. She is accomplished, credible — and has been left out in the cold by state Democratic leaders and her two better-known opponents. And that, too, is a shame for democracy.

This is the race that U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, 33, is supposed to win. He’s a smart, pleasant Florida native who hews to the Democrats’ agenda. He grew up in the Keys and has served two terms in the U.S. House. His dad, Thomas Murphy Jr., the head of Coastal Construction Group, is spending big bucks to help elect his son.

That’s all well and good. But questions have cropped up about whether the candidate has embellished his résumé. Mr. Murphy, a certified public accountant, told the Editorial Board that any discrepancy was an “inadvertent error” on his website.

He has pretty much weathered that flap, and now appears to be campaigning as if he’s got the race in the bag, which is to say, not much at all. Few public campaign events have been scheduled; and he backed out of debating the other well-known candidate in the race, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson on the pretext of not wanting to give his opponent, who had been accused of domestic abuse, a political platform.

Keep in mind, Rep. Grayson has never been arrested or charged. But Mr. Murphy nonetheless used the allegations as a flimsy excuse to wiggle out of having to confront his opponent. Unseemly for a candidate who pledges to fight tooth-and-nail for Florida’s interests. Rep. Grayson denied the abuse allegations to the Editorial Board, and said that he and his children were the victims of his wife’s abuse.

The darker cloud over Rep. Grayson’s head is a series of ethics investigations into how he managed three hedge funds that bear his name and have unnamed investors.

Rep. Grayson is hard-charging, incisive and accomplished. He calls himself a “master of the House rules.”

He says that he pushed through an extension of a tax deduction on sales taxes, a boon for middle-class families; he scored a 9 percent increase for the nation’s estuary program in the wake of massive fish kills along the East Coast.

In April, the Office of Congressional Ethics found that the representative may have violated up to six House rules related to his hedge fund.

Still, the House Ethics Committee, which has the power to sanction lawmakers, declined for the time being to investigate possible misconduct. Last month, two more ethics complaints were filed against Rep. Grayson. So despite his impressive legislative muscle, Rep. Grayson remains in a kind of ethics limbo.

Ms. Keith has an engaging personality and a world view that cuts through that political fog. She’s a realist and knows she’s a long-shot, but makes a good case for the seat she’s pursuing: “The military, foreign policy, labor policy — these are federal issues,” she told the Editorial Board. “I know the federal sphere.”

An attorney who lives in Miami, Ms. Keith is a former naval officer and a JAG — a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. The daughter of a Foreign Service officer, she was born in Turkey. She lived in Morocco, Syria, Brazil and stateside before high school.

Her priorities reflect her impressive background: She’s concerned about veterans’ well-being, and would make funding for the troubled VA system contingent on troop levels; when it comes to claims, she says currently the burden of proof of the need for treatment falls on veterans, who are too often denied. Ms Keith says the VA, instead, should be made to justify denying treatment, and within 90 days.

Ms. Keith, 47, says she grew up with Mideast policy: “Our insistence on ousting Assad is messing up our relationship with Egypt,” she said. “We must do a better job with propaganda if we’re going to use drones.”

With a creative approach to address the proliferation of assault weapons, she says that the military refuse to buy weapons from manufacturers that sell military-grade weapons to civilians.

“My grounding principle? How much I love my fellow Americans who are denied access to the American Dream.” Nice.

In the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, the Herald recommends PAM KEITH.