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Democratic groups weigh in on U.S. Senate debate controversy


Two other political groups are now voicing their opinions on whether Miami Democrat Pam Keith should be included in an Orlando TV station's upcoming primary debate for Florida's U.S. Senate race.

The Boynton Beach-based Democratic African American Women Caucus says, quite bluntly, that Keith shouldn't complain about being excluded, because the fact is she didn't meet the qualifying criteria to participate.

"Put the race card away. It doesn't apply here," caucus president Leslie Wimes said of Keith, in an email statement to the Herald/Times.

But the Democratic Progressive Caucus -- a subset of the Florida Democratic Party -- is echoing the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women in urging WFTV Channel 9 to change its mind and invite Keith. Florida NOW, which endorsed Keith, said it was "outraged" she wasn't invited.

Keith has accused WFTV in Orlando of "blatant racism and sexism" for excluding her from its televised primary debate next month between the two leading Democratic candidates, U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy. Keith is African American and the only female candidate seeking Florida's U.S. Senate seat this year. Grayson and Murphy are white.

The station said earlier this week that Grayson and Murphy were the only two of the five Democratic candidates who'd met the qualifying criteria: 15 percent support in polls. Keith received 10 percent and 11 percent support in the two polls she has been included in.

A polling threshold is common for organized political debates. It's unclear how the qualifying criteria was set for this one; the terms are typically the subject of negotiation between the invited participants and the host.

In her email, Wimes said: "We do not think WFTV is being racist or sexist towards Pam Keith. If she doesn't meet the criteria, then she doesn't participate. Crying racism/sexism because she hasn't increased her poll numbers or her name recognition in the almost two years that she has been running does a huge disservice to women who are victims of racism/sexism."

The Democratic African American Women Caucus has not endorsed any candidate and Wimes said her statement "in no way is a reflection on Pam Keith's qualifications."

"Fair is fair, though. Not everything is racism and we would be remiss if we didn't say so," Wimes said.

The Democratic Progressive Caucus didn't address Keith's line of attack in criticizing the station and her competitors. The group, which hasn't endorsed any candidate, defended what they say is her right to participate in candidate debates.

"No one -- Democratic elites, the media or elected officials -- should put their thumb on the scale to advantage or disadvantage any candidate," caucus chairwoman Susan Smith said in a statement. "Florida Democrats who will go to the polls on August 30th deserve to hear from all three candidates so they can make a smart decision about who should represent out party in the General Election against Marco Rubio."

"By keeping Pam Keith out of the debate, WFTV is denying Democratic voters the opportunity to be fully informed of their options," Smith said.

WFTV has not responded to Keith's remarks. But the station said earlier this week that other Senate candidates, Democrats and Republicans (including Keith), would be invited to do three-minute segments “to communicate their stance on the issues to the people of Central Florida.”

Grayson hasn't commented either, and Murphy was vague when asked about the controversy on Thursday by the Miami Herald's editorial board.

The Grayson-Murphy debate is set to be taped in advance and will air at 7 p.m. Aug. 12 on WFTV in Orlando and online at

Lesser-known Democratic candidates Reginald Luster of Jacksonville and "Rocky" Roque De La Fuente of Orlando also weren't invited to the debate. They each launched their campaigns last month -- just in time to qualify for the primary ballot -- and neither has been included in any polls.