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Barack Obama, Joe Biden endorse Patrick Murphy in Florida's U.S. Senate race; Republicans go on the attack



Adding to his lengthy -- and growing -- list of establishment endorsements, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy just landed the two biggest names possible for a Democrat: Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

The president and vice president of the United States are backing Murphy in his bid for Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat, Murphy's campaign announced this morning.

And Biden will campaign with Murphy on March 28, the campaign said. Specific details haven't been released yet.

In statements provided by the campaign, both Obama and Biden heaped praise on Murphy, a congressman from Jupiter, for his work supporting the middle-class and a host of other issues.

"Patrick has been a tireless champion for middle-class families and a defender of the economic progress that American workers and businesses have made," Obama said in the statement. "In Congress, he's fought to strengthen Medicare and Social Security, reform our criminal justice system, and protect a woman's right to choose. Floridians can count on Patrick Murphy to stand up for them every day as their next Senator."

Biden added, "Patrick Murphy has the progressive values, the work ethic and the youthful energy the U.S. Senate needs. He'll work tirelessly to bring people together to make a difference for Florida's middle class."

The endorsements -- including that compliment -- weren't well-received by Murphy's primary opponent, fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson. The Orlando congressman is a proud and passionate progressive, who's banking on progressives' support to beat Murphy in Florida's Democratic primary in August.

Grayson's campaign said in a statement that Obama's and Biden's endorsements smack of "a last-ditch effort by the D.C. Establishment to try to blunt our large and growing command of the race."

The campaign noted Murphy's endorsements came two days after Grayson endorsed "the anti-Establishment candidate," Bernie Sanders, in the Democratic presidential contest, and less than a day after a new poll showed Grayson edging Murphy in the August party primary.

"The anti-Democratic Party Establishment is desperate to drag Grayson’s opponent - their do-nothing, errand boy for Wall Street - over the finish line," Grayson's campaign said. "But Florida voters in both parties are fed up with egregious manipulation by outside forces to dictate our candidates. These arrogant Empire-Strikes-Back efforts by the Democratic politburo will be no more successful than the similar failed attempts by Republican party bosses.  This is the year when the voters decide.”

Yesterday evening, Grayson and Republican Rep. David Jolly declared themselves the "clear front-runners" in the race and agreed to a series of one-on-one debates -- citing the poll by Public Policy Polling that found them both ahead in their respective primaries. However, Murphy fared better in that poll in general election match-ups against Republicans. And almost half of likely voters in each party primary remain undecided, because Republicans and Democrats have failed to distinguish themselves in a crowded field.

Murphy spent some time with Obama just last week in Jacksonville, when the president gave a speech on the economy. Murphy flew to Florida with Obama on Air Force One.

Murphy said he was honored to get Obama's and Biden's support, and he praised them as "champions for Democrats and hardworking families across our country."

"I am humbled and proud to receive their endorsement and campaign shoulder-to-shoulder with them for what we believe in,” Murphy said.

Murphy also has been all-but-endorsed by the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate, Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Reid has campaigned on Murphy's behalf and has called on Grayson to drop out of the race over ongoing controversy and a congressional ethics investigation, stemming from Grayson's management of once-offshore hedge funds.

Aside from Grayson, one of the Republican contenders in the race -- as well as a couple national GOP groups -- also attacked Murphy today over the president's and vice president's endorsements.

Specifically, they criticize the more-moderate Murphy of becoming more liberal to try to win the U.S. Senate seat.

"Patrick Murphy continues on the path to become Charlie Crist 2.0 by moving further and further to the left for political expediency and gain," said Brian Swensen, the Senate campaign manager for current Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. "Like Charlie Crist, Murphy, the former Republican turned Democrat, cannot be trusted and will always pander to whatever group that will aid his ambition."

A Republican super PAC suggested -- as it has continuously this cycle -- that Murphy received the Obama/Biden endorsement as a reward for campaign contributions his Republican parents have made to federal politicians over the years.

The Senate Leadership Fund, affiliated with Karl Rove's American Crossroads, noted Murphy's parents "donated $111,200 to Obama's campaigns/victory funds in 2008 and 2012."

"Unfortunately for Murphy, all the endorsements his parents have bought for him haven’t given him an ounce of substance and haven’t helped him get within ten points of Alan Grayson," fund spokesman Ian Prior said.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which seeks to elect Republicans to the U.S. Senate, also weighed in.

"Murphy's Washington handlers are hitting the panic button," NRSC spokesman Greg Blair said. "This is a candidate who has no credibility with his own party's base and the Democrat establishment is doing everything in its power to prop him up." 

Photo credit: Walter Michot / Miami Herald

Posted at 8:16 a.m., Updated at 9:35 a.m. and 12:10 p.m.