TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy said Wednesday he would not debate his main U.S. Senate primary opponent because of allegations of domestic abuse, raising the prospect that there will not be Senate debates in either party before the Aug. 30 primaries.
Murphy announced he no longer plans to debate Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson. Last week, Politico reported on abuse accusations by Grayson’s ex-wife, Lolita, who provided the publication with two decades of records. Grayson has denied the allegations, but the story prompted at least two progressive organizations that had supported Grayson to abandon him weeks before the primary.
In his statement Wednesday, Murphy said he made his decision after abuse survivors told him “that Alan Grayson’s continued presence in this race is an insult to the countless Floridians whose lives have been affected by this kind of violence.”
“Alan Grayson’s words and actions have disqualified him from public service, and I cannot in good conscience give him a platform to promote himself and his campaign,” Murphy said. “As a result, I will not participate in any forums or debates with Alan Grayson.”
Murphy and Grayson also face longshot candidate Pam Keith, a labor attorney.
In what appeared to be a carefully choreographed rollout, several supporters quickly backed up Murphy’s decision to forego any showdowns with Grayson.
“Patrick Murphy’s decision to not give a platform that would legitimize Grayson’s candidacy was a good one and I support him in this,” said state Rep. Kristin Jacobs, a Coconut Creek Democrat who was a victim of an abusive relationship. “Grayson’s repeated public statements amount to public bullying and in my opinion disqualify him from serving.”
But Murphy also faced condemnation from both sides of the political aisle. Grayson’s campaign released a blistering statement from campaign manager Michael Ceraso, who accused Murphy of capitalizing on “some very serious allegations to exploit this very personal family struggle, and for his own political gain.”
Ceraso also implied that sexism might have been part of Murphy’s decision.
“Pam Keith was unequivocal today about her willingness to debate Alan Grayson alone, or with Patrick Murphy,” Ceraso said. “Perhaps Patrick Murphy has an issue debating with anyone in this primary, whether it’s Alan Grayson, or the only woman in the race.”
The controversy over Democratic debates also comes as a showdown between Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and primary rivals appears unlikely. Rubio’s main challenger, developer Carlos Beruff, has tried to make an issue of Rubio declining to commit to a debate.
“It’s common in Washington to pass the buck and hide from a challenge, but the people of Florida deserve a senator who’s not afraid to take a stand,” Beruff said in a recent statement. “My message to Marco is simple: man up.”
Over the weekend, Rubio told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that he would debate Beruff “if it makes sense.”
“I got into this so late I really haven’t even looked into that part,” said Rubio, who didn’t decide to run for re-election until June.
The News Service of Florida’s Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.