HOLLYWOOD, Florida — For now, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy is the only prominent Democrat in the race to replace Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, and he took advantage of that Saturday at a Florida Democratic Party fundraising event in which he portrayed himself as a moderate who isn't going to please everybody all the time.
Murphy spent the day racing from one event to the next, speaking to Democratic caucuses for gays, women, Hispanics, African Americans and other groups. His message was that he is a moderate that believes in key Democratic principles but doesn't always vote in lock step with the party.
"I'm not going to have an agenda for one group or another group," Murphy told the Hispanic caucus ahead of the party's annual fundraising dinner. "I don't just put on blinders."
That's a good strategy for the general election, but Murphy could still face primary opposition. Liberal Congressman Alan Grayson is considering a run, and he could pull votes from the far left of the party. Grayson didn't attend the party event.
While Republicans dominate state politics with huge majorities in the Legislature and have been victors in the past five state gubernatorial elections, Florida is a state whose politics tend to be more toward the middle. President Barack Obama carried the state in 2008 and 2012 and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has easily won three terms as a moderate.
Murphy is a former Republican who beat tea party favorite Allen West in 2012. He pointed out several times Saturday that Mitt Romney carried his district by four percentage points in 2012, but Murphy won re-election last year by nearly 20 points.
And he acknowledged that his moderate views won't please everyone.
"You're never going to make everybody happy. I have a dad who's a Republican, a mom who's independent, one brother is a Democrat, another brother doesn't even know what Congress is," Murphy said to laughs. "I was sitting with them and I'm trying to tell them my issues and positions and I couldn't get them all to agree."
Murphy also pledged to campaign in every county, a promise that comes the day after the state party released a report that largely blamed 2014 election losses on ignoring north Florida and rural central Florida counties. And while the party report also blamed losses on not being able to match Republicans in spending, Murphy told activists that he can win without a money advantage, pointing out that he beat West despite being badly outspent.
Rubio is running for president instead of seeking a second term. Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis is also running for the seat and could face a primary from Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.
At the Democrat's dinner later Saturday, U.S. Rep. and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz criticized two Florida Republicans with an eye on the White House.
She compared Sen. Marco Rubio, who is already in the race, to a jellyfish, saying he's spineless for backing off his proposal on immigration when faced with opposition in his own party.
Wasserman Schultz then turned her attention to Bush, who is expected to formally enter the race for president Monday.
"Jeb Bush only cares about himself. His positions are self-serving and his demeanor is calculating," she said. "He never has and never will fight for families like yours or mine."
The event was attended by more than 1,000 people and raises more than $800,000 for the state party.