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Joe Biden: Democrats have 'a genuine quality candidate' in Patrick Murphy

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The last time Vice President Joe Biden was in Florida campaigning for Patrick Murphy, the dynamics of the state's high-profile U.S. Senate race were very different.

That was in mid-May.

Before incumbent Republican Marco Rubio decided to seek re-election after all -- up-ending the status quo of Florida's Senate race.

And before Murphy's campaign took a hit from multiple media reports that revealed Murphy had inflated his academic and professional credentials by either incorrectly stating them or by omitting a full explanation of his pre-congressional experience.

Murphy remains the Democratic front-runner out of a field of five, but in hypothetical match-ups against Rubio, Murphy is now behind by double-digits, instead of edging out the Republican pack as he was before Rubio jumped in.

But what hasn't changed since Biden's last visit is Biden's glowing support for Murphy, a 33-year-old, two-term congressman from Jupiter.

On his third visit to Florida for Murphy since March, Biden on Friday continued to shower Murphy with praise -- touting Murphy's youth and the need for Democrats to take back control of the Senate in November.

"It’s really important that we win back the United States Senate, no matter what the outcome of the presidential -- and I think we’ll do well in the presidential -- but there’s so much at stake in terms of the Senate," Biden said, while speaking to reporters as Murphy and Biden made an unannounced stop at O'leans Cafe across the street from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee on Friday afternoon.

"I feel pretty good across the board, starting off, because I think we got a quality candidate, a genuine quality candidate," Biden said of Murphy.

When a Herald/Times reporter asked Biden for his thoughts on the media reports about Murphy's embellishments, Biden was quick to defend Murphy and dismiss the issue.

Biden murphy 4 _ 080516"Oh, no, no, no. His credentials are -– Look, first of all, he’s smart as hell, No. 1," Biden said. "No. 2, he is a CPA, and No. 3, the fact that he worked in that area and it’s like ‘well, you know, 2 of the 3 years, or 1 of the 3 years’ -- I mean, c’mon. It’s all part of the game."

Biden said that Rubio has a harder re-election battle now because of his previous presidential campaign. Not to mention, Rubio has Donald Trump at the top of the Republican ticket, he added.

"It’s probable he’s going to be carrying a heavy load with Donald Trump," Biden said of Rubio. "Let me put it this way: I think Trump has to win this state by a clear majority in order for Rubio to be able to make it."

Biden said Friday's visit for Murphy -- which was to be followed by a fundraiser in Miami Friday night for former DNC chairwoman and current Weston U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz -- won't be his last campaign stop in Florida this cycle.

"I’m going to be back here more. I’m going to be spending a lot of time in Florida for Patrick and for Hillary (Clinton)," Biden said. "I’m going to be spending a lot of time in Pennsylvania and Ohio and Michigan and the states that are going to determine the outcome of this election."

While Florida is key in the presidential election, it also has the national spotlight for its U.S. Senate race. Whoever wins in November could help decide which party controls the chamber next year -- and the Democratic establishment is all-in on Murphy, even though voters haven't decided the general election candidates yet.

Biden and President Barack Obama endorsed Murphy in early March -- a recognition Murphy has relied on heavily in his campaign for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat, most recently through radio and TV ads. Murphy also has the backing of several other prominent Democrats and Democratic groups that are prepared to spend millions on his behalf.

Friday's campaign stop in Tallahassee mirrored others that Murphy and Biden have made, first in Miami in March and then in Orlando in May. On each trip, the pair attended a private fundraiser and then made an unannounced stop at a locally owned soul-food restaurant, where invited guests and Murphy supporters waited for the chance to meet the vice president.

"We knew that a VIP would be visiting this location today," said Gail Bowers Simpkins, a Democrat from Tallahassee. "It's really awesome that he chose to come into our community, to a small business location that's doing really successful in our community."

Of Murphy, Bowers Simpkins added: "I think he's awesome, and that's another reason we were here today to show our support."

(During the half-hour stop at O'leans, Biden ordered fried chicken, black-eyed peas, and mac-and-cheese to go. He left a $20 tip for the owner after she wouldn't let him pay for the meal. Murphy didn't order anything.)

As Biden campaigned with Murphy, Murphy's Democratic and Republican opponents were quick to criticize the Obama administration's support for him, as well as his congressional record.

The Senate campaign for U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando -- Murphy's main opponent in the upcoming Aug. 30 primary -- accused Murphy of being "Obama's Judas" and "the Obama Administration's worst Democratic wingman in Congress." Grayson's campaign said Murphy voted with Republicans on 65 GOP-backed House bills that Obama has threatened to veto since 2013, while Grayson supported just six of those bills.

"Patrick can’t be counted on to have any White House Democrat’s back," Grayson campaign manager Michael Ceraso said in a statement. "This maxed-out (Mitt) Romney donor has been exposed for wildly exaggerating his resume, and he regularly joins Republicans when his party leaders need him most. How can Florida Democrats ever trust him?" 

Of the "Judas" comment, Murphy told reporters he hadn't seen the remark.

"Oh wow," he said. "Look, I'm focused on my election, and I think Congressman Grayson's lost quite a bit of credibly and I think voters have a very stark difference here in the two candidates."

(Grayson has come under fire in the past two weeks after his ex-wife accused him of domestic abuse during their 25-year marriage, which was annulled last year.)

Meanwhile, Rubio spokesman Michael Ahrens said Biden's visit "is yet another indication of national Democrats trying to prop up their preferred candidate and his struggling campaign."

"They can try their hardest to help him –- but after months of hiding from voters, and getting caught lying about his own resume and Marco’s record, Floridians can’t trust him," Ahrens said. "Another closed-door fundraiser or Harry Reid-funded TV ad isn’t going to change that." 

Photo credit: (1) Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy, left, walks ahead as Vice President Joe Biden talks with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum as the three leave O'leans Cafe in Tallahassee on Friday. Biden came to town to headline a private fundraiser for Murphy's Senate bid. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau. (2) Vice President Joe Biden talks with reporters, with Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy by his side, during an unannounced campaign stop for Murphy at O'leans Cafe in Tallahassee on Friday. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau.