National Democrats believe that Rep. Patrick Murphy's youth, demonstrated cross-party appeal, and fundraising ability will give the party its best shot at flipping Florida's Republican-held Senate seat next year.
But to the liberal grassroots groups pushing for a more progressive candidate in the race, Murphy's moderate record and Wall Street-heavy fundraising base are exactly the same reasons they hope he's not carrying the party's flag in 2016.
Despite jumping into the Senate race just one week before the first-quarter fundraising deadline, the two-term congressman reported an impressive haul of $1.25 million for his fledgling campaign, including $750,000 raised in the seven days after his announcement. Among his supporters are party leaders like Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Tester, who quickly rallied around Murphy as their preferred nominee for Marco Rubio's open seat.
Also listed in his first-quarter fundraising report: a host of Wall Street banks and financial-services leaders, whose money liberal groups want Murphy to reject going forward in the campaign.
In his most recent filing alone, Murphy received money from a who's who of banking PACs: $5,000 from the American Bankers Association, $2,000 from Bank of America, $1,000 from Branch Banking & Trust Co., $10,000 from Capital One Financial Corp., $2,500 from Charles Schwab, $7,500 from Citigroup, $5,000 from the Community Financial Services Association, $1,000 from Compass Bancshares, $2,500 from the Consumer Bankers Association, $2,500 from Credit Suisse Securities, $1,000 from H&R Block, $5,000 from JP Morgan Chase Co., $2,500 from the Managed Funds Association, $5,000 from the Mortgage Bankers Association, and $5,000 from New York Life Insurance Company.
Going into 2016, officials from some top banks have said Democrats could lose that cash if the party doesn't soften its tone toward Wall Street, according to a Reuters report. Citigroup in particular reportedly said it would withhold donations to the DSCC for fear the party would promote more leaders like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Such threats prompted outrage from liberal groups, including the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, who are now calling on candidates to reject contributions from Wall Street in the 2016 cycle.
That these groups would shell out for Murphy is no surprise. Before the last election, Politico reported that the 11 freshman members on the House Financial Services Committee, including Murphy, each raised about $100,000 more than the average House freshman in large part because of Wall Street backers. Throughout his first term, Murphy and his financial-services colleagues—including now-Sen. Tom Cotton—led in fundraising among their freshman House colleagues, building up parts of the profiles that made both men attractive recruits for the Senate.
"It's the biggest reason people disengage. Those with the money have the power, and we know the impact Wall Street has had on our economy over the last seven or eight years," said Susan Smith, president of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida. Smith's group released a letter to Murphy and other Florida candidates asking them not to take Wall Street money going forward from mid-April.
"Some of Murphy's votes, his vote to weaken Dodd-Frank concerned us, his vote on Keystone, his comments on Social Security "¦ and when you look to see that the banks are giving him money, we called for him to stop taking Wall Street money from this point forward," Smith continued.
Neil Sroka, a spokesman for the progressive group Democracy for America, said in an email that, "if Democrats want to prove that they're not owned by Wall Street bullies, that starts by making clear that they can't be bought, something that's exceedingly difficult when you're taking in money hand-over-fist from banking-industry PACs."
Both the Florida progressive group and DFA have said they would support Rep. Alan Grayson if he decided to challenge Murphy for the nomination. Smith said her group would also ask Grayson, who is independently wealthy and has gotten major support from small donors in the past, to take a pledge against Wall Street money.
Murphy's campaign disputed any suggestion that the Democrat was taking any cues from his donors.
"What's most important to Patrick Murphy is that we uphold Wall Street reform, and anyone who contributes to his campaign does so with the understanding that his top priority is to protect Main Street Floridians and prevent another financial collapse," spokesman Richard Carbo said in a statement.
Grayson, who has also served on House Financial Services Committee and received some Wall Street money in the past, told National Journal in an interview that he would take the pledge if he got in the race. He sought to draw a contrast with Murphy on the issue.
"If you're on the Financial Services Committee and you take Wall Street money, it's not necessarily the fact that you're taking Wall Street money that matters, it's what you're doing in return. Are you, for instance, trying to water down the Dodd-Frank bill?" said Grayson. "When Wall Street lobbyists would see me walking down the hallway, they would turn and run the other direction. These are people who understand I'm not on their side, I wasn't going to do them any favors, and my vote was not for sale."
Far from every liberal sees Murphy's fundraising or votes as a problem, though. According to a recent Mason-Dixon poll, more Florida Democrats like Murphy than Grayson—and many more, 14 percent to 2 percent, view Grayson unfavorably. (Overall, neither member of Congress is particularly well-known.) And among donors, there is still goodwill built up for the man who moved districts to take on and unseat tea-party firebrand Allen West in 2012.
"What I would tell progressives, and by the way I'm one of them, is Patrick Murphy took down West," said Democratic donor John Morgan. "He did all of us a great favor. Let's never not be grateful for that."
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