Democrat Pam Keith doesn't mince words when expressing her frustration at how she feels the Democratic primary election is playing out in Florida's U.S. Senate race.
"It’s a farce to call this process a primary. It’s not; it was always intended to be a coronation," Keith said during a visit with the Miami Herald's editorial board on Tuesday.
Keith, a labor attorney and former naval officer who lives in Miami, has been campaigning for U.S. Senate longer than any other candidate this cycle. But she's struggled to raise campaign funds and gain widespread name recognition, as Democratic congressmen Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson have crowded the spotlight.
The "coronation" Keith spoke of is in reference to Murphy, the Democratic establishment's hand-picked candidate who has received all the high-profile endorsements and fundraising support that comes with that status. That includes the backing of the Democratic Party's top two figureheads: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
"The party decided who their candidate was going to be long before 2016," Keith said. "They decided they were going to coronate Patrick Murphy from the word 'go,' and they have given him every conceivable advantage."
She added: "When the party’s machinery fund-raises for one candidate and not the others, that’s not a primary. When the party’s machinery leans on politicians to endorse their guy, that is not a primary."
Grayson, a progressive firebrand, has also spoken with frustration at the Democratic establishment's embrace of Murphy.
For his part, Murphy has touted the Obama-Biden endorsement proudly, capitalizing on it further with Obama appearing for him in his first TV ad. Both Biden and Obama have also campaigned for Murphy in Florida, and Biden is set to return for a third visit in early August.
Keith has been campaigning full-time for about 20 months, and she's presenting herself as the alternative option for Democrats who might not want to back either Murphy or Grayson. Both have demonstrated notable flaws and vulnerabilities: Murphy has been criticized for inflating his experience and credentials, and Grayson has battled, first, an ongoing congressional ethics investigation and, now this week, allegations by his ex-wife of prior domestic abuse.
Although both Murphy and Grayson have experience in Congress, Keith -- a political newcomer -- says "just because they’ve been there doesn’t mean they’ve done a good job."
"The question you ought to be asking yourself is who speaks to my priorities and issues in a way that makes me feel, 'she gets it' -– because when you’re in Congress, you have a limited number of hours to do what you’re going to do and you develop a record about how you use those hours," Keith said.
"Now there are some who use those hours to grandstand and rabble-rouse and irritate their colleagues. There are others who use that time to ensure that their father’s interests get full airing. If you think that’s great, right on! That’s not how I’m going to use my hours," she said, without mentioning Grayson or Murphy by name but clearly referencing each of them, respectively.
Later Tuesday, Keith also criticized an Orlando TV station for excluding her from what is likely to be the only Democratic debate ahead of the Aug. 30 primary. She accused WFTV Channel 9 of "blatant racism and sexism" for its decision to hold only a "one-on-one" debate between the two congressmen; the station said only Murphy and Grayson met its threshold to participate (by polling at 15 percent or higher).
Photo credit: Pam Keith U.S. Senate campaign