Backroom Briefing: Charlie and Debbie Narrow the Field

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Political notes from The News Service of Florida

With two big-name potential candidates bowing out, the field is starting to take shape in the race for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2016.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz this week removed their names from the list of possible candidates. Crist posted a message on his Facebook page, promising that he will "will not be seeking office in 2016, but I will be working alongside you." Wasserman Schultz told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that she thought she could do more good running for re-election to the House and filling out her term as Democratic National Committee chairwoman through the 2016 elections.

Wasserman Schultz tried to talk up Democrats' chances to take the Senate seat, currently held by Republican Marco Rubio. Rubio is considering a bid for the presidency and has said he wouldn't run for the White House and re-election at the same time.

"We have a lot of potential, really strong candidates," Wasserman Schultz told Blitzer. "And I think, whether it's against Marco Rubio or in an open seat, that there is a real opportunity to make sure that we can have the leadership that Floridians need to be able to count on to focus on job creation, health care, making sure we have a good strong education system and continuing to get this economy turned around and not take us backwards, like Marco Rubio has or any other Republican candidate would."

In reality, though, most of the talk now focuses on two Democratic congressmen who cut very different profiles: Rep. Patrick Murphy, who won re-election with almost 60 percent of the vote last year in a swingy Southeast Florida district, and Rep. Alan Grayson, who represents a Central Florida district and who is almost always described as a "liberal firebrand." A primary between the two, if it were to happen, would generally be seen as a contest between the moderate Murphy and the more progressive Grayson, who would be able to raise millions of dollars from a donor base of adoring fans.

To see the difference, one only needs to look at the two men's Twitter accounts. From Grayson, on March 13: "57 years ago today was a bad day for the Tea Party, the Koch Bros., Fox News, inequality, greed and war; I was born." Murphy, meanwhile, has referred to "bipartisan" proposals or mentioned Republican lawmakers in eight of his 25 tweets since the beginning of February.

But a prolonged bout between Grayson and Murphy is something party elders would likely want to avoid. Rubio or another Republican could be vulnerable in a presidential election cycle, when Florida trends more Democratic than in midterms. But a messy primary on the Democratic side could leave the eventual nominee scrambling for resources, particularly if the GOP avoids an intraparty battle.

LEADERSHIP HAS ITS PRIVILEGES BEFORE SESSION

House Rules Chairman Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, is still three years away from running for a state Senate seat.

But as lawmakers prepared in February to start the legislative session, $68,700 poured into Workman's 2018 campaign account, with money coming from powerful special interests such as the HCA hospital chain, Florida Blue, Publix, U.S. Sugar and Walt Disney Parks & Resorts.

Workman isn't alone. Each year as the legislative session approaches, money flows into campaign accounts --- with leaders often among the biggest beneficiaries. The rush comes, at least in part, because lawmakers are barred from raking in cash during the session, which started March 3 this year.

Among the other big money-raisers last month were House Health Care Appropriations Chairman Matt Hudson, R-Naples, and Senate Fiscal Policy Chairwoman Anitere Flores, R-Miami. They each topped $100,000 for Senate races in 2016, with Flores seeking re-election and Hudson seeking to replace term-limited Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples.

Also topping $100,000 for a 2016 race was House Economic Affairs Chairman Jose Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican who is in line to become House speaker in 2018. A political committee led by Oliva, the "Conservative Principles for Florida" committee, also reported raising $180,500 during February.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: "I will not be seeking office in 2016, but I will be working alongside my fellow @FlaDems. Join me at http://floridadems.org."---Former Gov. Charlie Crist, announcing he will not run for U.S. Senate.

From our media partner News Service of Florida


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