In one dramatic day this month, the entire race — one of roughly a half-dozen on which control of the Senate rests — was turned on its head. First, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio dropped his retirement plans and announced plans to run for reelection. Within hours, the CBS affiliate in Miami aired a bombshell investigative story accusing the Democratic establishment's chosen candidate, 33-year-old Rep. Patrick Murphy, of rampant résumé inflation.
Now, Republicans smell blood in the water, and they're looking to damage Murphy so badly that Democrats are forced to spend heavily on his behalf ahead of the state's Aug. 30 primary — or abandon the race altogether. The GOP is adopting a strategy that's been used against it repeatedly in recent election cycles: Propping up a politically toxic, outside-the-mainstream candidate in the other party's primary, in this case firebrand liberal Rep. Alan Grayson.
"I think anybody would rather run against Grayson” in the general election, said Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, a vice chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
The reversal of fortunes in Florida could hardly have come at a better time for Republicans, after weeks of negative headlines about their presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, and increasing concerns about a down-ballot disaster for the party. If Republicans can put the Sunshine State race out of reach, it would substantially boost their hopes of retaining the Senate. The party is clinging to a four-seat advantage, but faces an electoral map tilted decidedly in Democrats' favor.
Florida was seen as a better-than-even Democratic pickup before Rubio changed his mind, given Trump’s lousy poll numbers in the diverse state and a slate of underfunded and little-known Republican candidates. Now, Republicans have not only a top-tier incumbent, but a major TV takedown of the leading Democrat: The CBS story, which Murphy's campaign has aggressively sought to refute, questioned his stated credentials as a CPA and other business experience. Republicans promptly launched an ad off it, backed by $45,000. It's running on cable in the D.C. area, to sow doubt among donors and operatives about whether Murphy is worth their investment.
The Murphy story is bad. The comically stupid Rubio flip-flop mess is definitely worse, and given Trump's disastrous albatross status, it should be enough to offset Rubio's incumbency and make it an even race, which the polls show.
But Alan Grayson's ethics problems are lethal, and Republicans are hoping to pick their opponent, one so bad even Rubio can win. The optimal answer is for Grayson to drop out, but we all know that's not going to happen.
Hillary Clinton can relate, you know?