In defending a four-seat majority in the U.S. Senate, Republicans need to worry a good deal more about incumbent seats in places like Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and North Carolina (NORTH CAROLINA!) than they do in Florida. Incumbent Marco Rubio looks solid here, and Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy, recently considered a hot political property, seems to be fading.
For evidence of this, look no further than recent news that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has decided to delay its ad buy on Murphy’s behalf to the last week in September and to lower its expenditure from $1 million to $700,000. DSCC officials say this reduced financial support is not because they see Murphy as a less viable candidate. They insist he has sufficient funds to mount a campaign and will be competitive in November. Republicans choose to see this as “bailing” on a candidate who has received a lot of bad press over the past couple of months.
The latest Real Clear Politics average of six polls taken between August 10 and September 8, show Rubio up by an average of 4.5%. Not a huge lead, within the margin of error of some polls. But many of these were taken before Murphy was hit by media stories that he is not, as he has been claiming, a CPA, and is not, as he has been claiming, a small business owner.
Murphy has a CPA license in Colorado, where he’s never lived or worked, not in Florida, where he worked as an audit assistant with Deloitte and Touche. The small businesses Murphy would have voters believe are his were financed by his wealthy father. Murphy has also been caught exaggerating his academic credentials. Murphy has said that he has full trust in Hillary Clinton. This makes it reasonable to conclude that he has about the same relationship with the truth as the woman at the top of his party’s ticket.
Rubio has his vulnerabilities too, starting with the fact that he missed a lot of Senate votes while running for president (not that all presidential candidates from the Senate don’t do the same — including a certain Community Organizer-in-Chief). And he said many times he would not seek re-election to his Senate seat, and then reversed himself. Democrats charge that if Rubio is re-elected to the Senate he will not finish his six-year term, choosing to run for president again. Rubio has bobbed and weaved around this question. His veracity on this one might also be in doubt as he said he would not run for re-election to his Senate seat but then did it anyway.
Like so many other Republicans, Rubio has a Trump problem. He has said he will vote for Trump but has been less than enthusiastic in his support of his party’s candidate. He hasn’t backed away from some of the unflattering things he said about the Donald while Rubio was still a presidential candidate, including calling the Donald a con man. Not clear yet if this will lose Rubio votes, or perhaps gain him some with independents and never-Trump Republicans.
These are real enough Rubio weaknesses. But because of his recently revealed casual relationship with the truth, Murphy isn’t in much of a positon to take advantage of these advantages. In addition to his highly fictionalized résumé, Murphy suffers from the fact that he accomplished little in his short stint in the private sector before winning a seat in the U.S. House when he was 29. One of the raps some used against the 45-year-old Rubio during the presidential race was that he was young for the office. He appears mature next to the 33-year-old Murphy. Another advantage Rubio has is that he’s articulate. Murphy isn’t.
Murphy has been described as a moderate in the past. In fact, he was a Republican until two weeks before he entered the 2012 congressional race, where he did the country the disservice of defeating conservative Congressman Alan West by 2,429 votes out of more than 330K votes cast. But on the Senate campaign trail he has climbed on the progressive bandwagon. No more talk about being an “independent,” which worked for him in 2012.
Murphy doesn’t mention being one of only 28 House Democrats to support the Keystone XL pipeline, or being one of only seven Democrats to support creation of the House Select Committee in Benghazi. Mostly now he whoops up the same things other Democrats do: more goodies for the progressives’ certified victim groups such as women and minorities. A higher minimum wage. Raises for Social Security recipients. And, of course, whatever the LGBT crowd can think of that they want. He’s now a certified member of Team Progressive.
Republicans have their work cut out for them defending 24 Senate seats while the Democrats only have to defend 10. But Democrats are probably smart to use their Senate resources elsewhere, at least until and unless Murphy discovers a previously unknown well of charm, verifiable accomplishments, or veracity.