The announcement was paired with an introductory biographical ad on YouTube where Murphy describes herself as “a patriot, not a politician.”
Murphy, acknowledging she’s “seriously considering” a senate bid in either 2022 or 2024 when GOP Sen. Rick Scott is up for reelection, said her initiative is designed to “regroup, refocus, and reenergize Florida Democrats” who have watched Republicans out-organize, out-message and out-vote them, turning the once-purple swing state into a reddish battleground.
The initiative, which will at first be a series of virtual conversations with party leaders and activists across the state, will be managed for Murphy by the Florida Democratic Party’s former political director, Lauren Calmet, who was just hired by the congresswoman. The conversations, Murphy said, will revolve around five pillars: the Covid-19 pandemic, managing misinformation, combating climate change, advancing social justice and fighting voter suppression.
Murphy said she wanted to start as soon as possible in a non-election year based on the advice she received last week from Stacey Abrams, the Georgia Democrat who helped organize her party and register so many new voters that it helped the once-red state defeat Donald Trump and elect two Democrats to the U.S. Senate. Murphy said she wants her effort to build the “right money, message, and machine” to make Democrats competitive in the state, which would include ramping up voter-registration efforts after Republicans wiped out this once-potent advantage of Democrats last year.
Nowhere were Republican gains as stark as they were in Rubio’s home county of Miami-Dade in 2020. Once a safe Democratic stronghold, Trump came within single digits of winning it, partly due to his organizing efforts and his outreach to South Florida’s Hispanic communities filled with exiles who had fled leftist regimes and violence in Latin America.
As a child of immigrants who fled Communist Vietnam in 1978, Murphy has told her family’s story in English and Spanish on the campaign trail, which could have particular salience in Miami-Dade. A former educator, businesswoman and Department of Defense adviser, Murphy in recent years has become an outspoken voice among Florida Democrats in denouncing socialism and proclaiming herself to be a capitalist.
“It’s important for Democrats to be clearer about our values and make it clear where we stand,” Murphy said. “We live in the greatest democracy in the world and have benefited from a free-market economic system that needs improvement but doesn’t need to be thrown out and replaced with socialism that has proven time and again to not work for people.”
Juan Peñalosa, the former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, said Murphy is at the vanguard of Democrats pushing back against “Republican arguments that try to paint us as socialists or as anti-American by telling these personal stories. And the fact that Republicans like Rubio pledged fealty to GOP colleagues amid the insurrection that happened at the U.S. Capitol only strengthens our argument and weakens theirs.”
When Rubio first ran statewide in 2010, he emphasized his family’s emigration from Cuba. In 2013, Rubio, currently the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was part of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” Senate group that attempted to pass immigration reform and often discussed the legislation through the prism of his family’s story.
Murphy today sounds a lot like the Rubio of old.
“I come at this from a personal perspective,” she said. “My family and I escaped Communist Vietnam when I was just a baby. And this country gave us refuge and gave me opportunity and I’ve had this chance to live the American dream.”
Murphy’s record and her unique biography — she would be the first Asian-American elected statewide in Florida and was the first woman of Vietnamese descent elected to Congress — has made her a top recruit for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer who has urged her privately to consider challenging Rubio and help Democrats win a clear majority in the 50-50 U.S. Senate, according to two sources who have been briefed on his recruitment effort. Murphy declined to discuss the conversations.
Murphy’s colleague from Orlando, Rep. Val Demings, has also been approached to run against Rubio but has been less committal than Murphy, the sources said. Demings, who served as an impeachment manager during Trump’s first impeachment and was discussed as a possible running mate for Joe Biden, sits in a safer congressional seat than Murphy. With redistricting on the horizon next year, there’s broad expectation that Murphy’s congressional seat could be greatly redrawn by the GOP-led Legislature because the Orlando area is expected to gain another seat due to booming population growth.
Former Rep. Alan Grayson, who also hails from Orlando, is considering a run against Rubio as well. So far, three little-known Democrats have filed to run against Rubio: Allen Ellison, Joshua Weil and Edward Abud.
Murphy said she doesn’t have a timeline for any future announcement and stressed that the initiative isn’t about her.
“Even if I don’t run, I want to make sure we have a nominee and party infrastructure to help Democrats win statewide and put Florida families first,” she said.