My esteemed editor at TAS, Wlady Pleszczynski, rarely asks me for a column on a specific subject. He usually and kindly allows me to bang on about whatever is on my mind, which leads to uneven results. But he has now asked me for an update on the Florida U.S. Senate race, and this has proved more difficult than any of his previous requests. Difficult because as far as I, and the politically savvy folks I’ve consulted on this, can tell, there isn’t one yet. Maybe there will be one after that other election in Florida is done and dusted Tuesday.
Usually an open U.S. Senate seat is a big political deal and attracts lots of media attention. Control of the U.S. Senate is indeed a big deal, not least because of the likelihood that the next President and Senate will have multiple Supreme Court vacancies to fill. Republicans currently have a majority of four in the U.S. Senate. But they must defend 24 seats this year to only 10 for the Democrats.
Important or not, the Florida race to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio has flown mostly below the radar to date, chiefly because this is a presidential year. Also because no one seeking the Senate seat is named Donald Trump, whose every action and utterance the mainstream media are dedicated to bringing to viewers in real time and in endless re-plays. (So far no response from my gently worded note to Greta Van Susteren suggesting that in the name of truth in labeling she should change the name of her nightly program to “The Donald Trump Show.”) For now, Donald stories are on page 1A, Donald reflections on the op-ed page, and stories about the relative unknowns seeking the Florida Senate seat, if they appear at all, are found on page 12C, below the fold, and next to the story about the roller-skating horse.
Though few are aware of it, there are actual candidates in the Florida Senate race – four Democrats and nine Republicans so far – and there may be more before the June 24 filing deadline. Few of these are known outside of their home turf. Some are the kind of vanity candidates who always seem to show up for these races and go nowhere because they’re unknown even in their own zip-codes. The biggest challenge for candidates running statewide for the first time in large states – more than 20 million residents now in Florida, making it the third largest—is to make themselves known to voters.
Raising name ID for newbies will be particularly difficult this cycle with media stars like Trump and Hillary Clinton eating up the available air-time and column inches. Such media space as left over is now usually taken up by a personable but daft old Mustache Pete of a socialist from Vermont by way of Brooklyn and the Soviet Union, where he spent his honeymoon, which tells you everything you need to know about him. (I wonder what Mrs. Sanders though of room service there, or of some of the favorite Soviet TV programs, such as “Bowling for Food,” which is what we’ll all be doing if Bernie makes it to 1600).
There have been a few polls on this race but they tell us next to nothing because voters don’t yet know the players. These polls tells us that the leading candidate in both parties by a mile is “undecided,” with “other” running a close second. But we can probably say now that South Florida Congressman Patrick Murphy probably has the inside track for the Democratic nod. Murphy, then a Fort Lauderdale resident, was elected in 2012, defeating incumbent Congressman Allen West by 0.8 percent in a very expensive, very fractious race. A former Republican, Murphy is considered a moderate Democrat. He has the support of most of the Florida Democratic Party establishment.
Although Murphy now resides in Jupiter, it is another Democratic candidate, Orlando-area Congressman Allan Grayson, who is from another planet. He is well to the left of Murphy and prone to rash statements, such as comparing the Tea Party to the Ku Klux Klan in some of his 2014 campaign literature. Democratic Party poohbahs consider him a bit too far out to win in Florida (though polls on the Republican presidential primary in Florida demonstrate that rash statements don’t always carry a political price).
Top candidates on the Republican side include Congressman Ron DeSantis of Jacksonville, probably the most conservative candidate in the race, wealthy Miami developer Carlos Beruff, moderate St. Petersburg Congressman Dave Jolly, and former Florida lieutenant governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera. No one yet seems to have traction over anyone else. The last guy in the list has served in state-wide office. But as the lieutenant governor has no known duties, no one outside of his former Miami-area district knows him. (Quick: Name three former lieutenant governors of your state. OK, name one… Didn’t think you could.)
Possible later entries into the race, according to the Great Mentioner, include Congresswoman Kathy Castor of Tampa, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and former Florida House minority leader Dan Gelber of Miami on the Democratic side. On the Republican side, possibilities include former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Francis Rooney, and former congressman and current Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam. There has even been a bit of media speculation that West Palm Beach resident Dr. Ben Carson, no longer a presidential candidate, might try the Senate waters. He certainly wouldn’t have the name recognition problem other candidates do.
There is little available yet on this one to help the usual handicappers. So they probably aren’t returning phone calls yet. But there will indeed be a U.S. Senate race in Florida this year; the primary is set for August 30. It could break out at any time after Tuesday. The conventional wisdom is that Donald Trump at the top of the national ticket, as will almost certainly be the case, would hurt the chances of Republican senatorial candidates, including in purple Florida. The case for this seems strong at the moment. But the November 8 General Election is almost nine months away, about a thousand lifetimes in politics. And the conventional wisdom is always conventional, but not always wise. Stay tuned.