Politics

Florida Senate Battleground Set: Rubio, Murphy Win Primaries

The race is one of 11 in-play seats as Democrats hope to win back the chamber

Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., defeated another House lawmaker and will face Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in November. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

It's official: Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy will take on Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in the Florida Senate race, a closely watched contest that will pit a former presidential candidate trying to save his political career against a young lawmaker Democrats hope has the moxie to win a tough race.

Both men, as expected, won their primaries Tuesday: Rubio easily defeated Miami-area builder Carlos Beruff in a contest that never gained traction after the incumbent decided to seek re-election in June. Rubio took 71 percent of the vote, according to the Associated Press, at publication time.

Murphy, meanwhile, overcame a challenge from Rep. Alan Grayson, earning 60 percent of the vote to Grayson's 17 percent, according to the AP.

Grayson becomes the third House member to lose their seat in a failed bid for Senate this cycle, joining the ranks of Donna Edwards, D-Md. and Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.

The loss, called with 34 percent of precincts reporting, was worse than expected for Grayson, who failed to finish even second in some precincts despite the relative anonymity of three other Democratic candidates challenging the House lawmakers.

Earlier in the Florida race, the Democratic primary looked as if it could become a major clash between Grayson, a wealthy liberal firebrand, and Murphy, a more centrist lawmaker considered a rising star in his party. 

But Grayson's campaign was beset by ethical allegations against the congressman, staff departures, and fresh accusations that he had assaulted his ex-wife. In part for those reasons, Democrats — including President Barack Obama, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — endorsed Murphy, whom they considered the stronger general election candidate. 

In an unprecedented move, Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC connected to Reid, even ran ads on Murphy's behalf — the first time it has intervened in a Democratic primary. 

Despite the loss, Grayson said he would not endorse Murphy for the general election. 

"I'm not going to be endorsing Patrick Murphy for sure," Grayson told the Orlando Sentinel. "He's a Republican."

GOP win

The Republican Party establishment similarly got its man Tuesday in Rubio, whom GOP leaders had surprisingly persuaded in June to to seek re-election after his failed bid for the presidency. 

Five candidates had been running for the Republican Senate nomination in Florida. After Rubio entered, only Beruff remained. 

The wealthy conservative, who has never held public office, spent heavily during the primary and accused Rubio of showing Donald Trump insufficient support. But Rubio's name recognition and popularity proved too much for Beruff to overcome. 

Unlike Grayson, Beruff said he would support Rubio in the fall.

But in an op-ed sent to reporters, he ripped his opponent for going "back on his word" when he decided to enter the Senate race, after saying repeatedly he would not seek re-election. 

"With regard to young Mr. Rubio, in my judgement he made a life mistake," Beruff wrote. "A man’s word is the most important thing he has.  Mr. Rubio must live with that decision.  Sadly, he could have learned a lot about America and about himself by leaving politics and spending some time in the real world."  

In head-to-head polls of their race, Rubio has led Murphy by a close but comfortable margin.

Rothenberg & Gonzales/Roll Call rates the seat Tilts Republican

Contact Roarty at alexroarty@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter @Alex_Roarty.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.